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1.  Trade-offs between reproductive coloration and innate immunity in a natural population of female sagebrush lizards, Sceloporus graciosus 
The Herpetological journal  2011;21(2):131-134.
Trade-offs between immune function and reproduction are common to many organisms. Nevertheless, high energetic resources may eliminate the need for these trade-offs. In this study, we consider the effects of food availability on these trade-offs in a wild population of female sagebrush lizards (Sceloporus graciosus) during the breeding season. We manipulated food availability by supplementing some lizards but not others. We measured female orange side coloration as an indicator of reproductive state and calculated the bacterial killing capability of collected plasma exposed to Escherichia coli ex vivo as a measure of innate immunity. We found that female lizards show a natural trade-off between reproductive effort and immune function; females under high reproductive investment had lower innate immunity than those at a later reproductive state. We did not detect this trade-off with food supplementation. We show that trade-offs depend on the energetic state of the animal, illustrating that trade-offs between immune function and reproduction can be context-dependent.
PMCID: PMC4231297  PMID: 25400312
context-dependent; energetics; life history; resources
2.  Courtship attention in sagebrush lizards varies with male identity and female reproductive state 
Behavioral Ecology  2008;19(6):1326-1332.
Previous experiments suggest that males spend more time with the more receptive of 2 novel females or the one with the higher fitness potential. However, males often court individual females repeatedly over a season; for example, male lizards sequentially visit familiar females as they patrol territorial boundaries. It may benefit males to vary display intensity as they move between multiple females. In this study, we explored the factors influencing amount of male courtship to familiar females in the sagebrush lizard, Sceloporus graciosus. We tested whether males vary the amount of courtship exhibited due to individual differences among males, female reproductive state, or female fitness potential. Each male was allowed to interact separately, but repeatedly, with 2 females until both females laid eggs. Male courtship behavior with each of the 2 females was assayed at an intermediate point, after 3 weeks of interaction. We found that individual differences among males were considerable. The number of male courtship displays was also positively correlated with female latency to lay eggs, with males displaying more often toward females with eggs that had not yet been fertilized. Courtship behavior was not well predicted by the number of eggs laid or by female width, both measures of female quality. Thus, male S. graciosus appear to alter courtship intensity more in response to signals of female reproductive state than in response to variation in potential female fitness.
PMCID: PMC2583109  PMID: 19458780
courtship; male choice; mate choice; reproductive state; Sceloporus graciosus; sexual selection
3.  Courtship attention in sagebrush lizards varies with male identity and female reproductive state 
Previous experiments suggest that males spend more time with the more receptive of two novel females or the one with the higher fitness potential. However, males often court individual females repeatedly over a season; for example, male lizards sequentially visit familiar females as they patrol territorial boundaries. It may benefit males to vary display intensity as they move between multiple females. In this study, we explored the factors influencing amount of male courtship to familiar females in the Sagebrush lizard, Sceloporus graciosus. We tested whether males vary the amount of courtship exhibited due to individual differences among males, female reproductive state, or female fitness potential. Each male was allowed to interact separately, but repeatedly, with two females until both females laid eggs. Male courtship behavior with each of the two females was assayed at an intermediate point, after three weeks of interaction. We found that individual differences among males were considerable. The number of male courtship displays was also positively correlated with female latency to lay eggs, with males displaying more often towards females with eggs that had not yet been fertilized. Courtship behavior was not well predicted by the number of eggs laid or by female width, both measures of female quality. Thus, male S. graciosus appear to alter courtship intensity more in response to signals of female reproductive state than in response to variation in potential female fitness.
PMCID: PMC2583109  PMID: 19458780
Sceloporus graciosus; male choice; mate choice; sexual selection; reproductive state; courtship
4.  The glutamate agonist, NMDA blocks gonadal regression and enhances antibody response to an immune challenge in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) 
Seasonal variation in behavior and physiology, including changes in immune function, are common. This variability is elicited by changes in photoperiod and often covaries with fluctuations in both energy reserves and reproductive state. It is unclear, however, whether changes in either variable alone drive seasonal changes in immunity. We investigated the relative contributions of reproduction and energy balance to changes in immune function. To accomplish this, we uncoupled seasonal changes in reproduction from those related to energy balance via daily injections of N-methyl-D-Aspartate (NMDA) in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). NMDA is a glutamatergic agonist that blocks short-day induced gonadal regression while leaving short-day declines in body mass unaffected. In Experiment 1, we examined the effect of differing doses of NMDA on testosterone production as a proxy for NMDA effects on reproduction; a dose-dependent rise in testosterone was observed. In Experiment 2, animals were maintained on long or short days and received daily injections of NMDA. After eight weeks all animals underwent a humoral immune challenge. Short-day animals receiving daily injections of NMDA maintained long-day-like gonads, however contrary to our predictions, no trade-off between reproduction or energy balance and immune function was observed. Unexpectedly, NMDA treatment increased immunoglobulin levels in all groups, suggesting NMDA may provide an immunomodulatory signal, presumably through actions on peripheral glutamate receptors. These results support a previous finding that NMDA blocks reproductive regression. In addition, these findings demonstrate a general immunoenhancing effect of NMDA that appears independent of changes in reproductive or energetic state of the animal.
PMCID: PMC2809793  PMID: 19820951
5.  Variation in stress and innate immunity in the tree lizard (Urosaurus ornatus) across an urban-rural gradient 
The urban environment presents new and different challenges to wildlife, but also potential opportunities depending on the species. As urban encroachment onto native habitats continues, understanding the impact of this expansion on native species is vital to conservation. A key physiological indicator of environmental disturbance is the vertebrate stress response, involving increases in circulating glucocorticoids (i.e., corticosterone), which exert influence on numerous physiological parameters including energy storage, reproduction, and immunity. We examined how urbanization in Phoenix, Arizona influences corticosterone levels, blood parasitism, and innate immunity in populations of tree lizards (Urosaurus ornatus) to determine whether urbanization may be detrimental or beneficial to this species. Both baseline and stress-induced corticosterone concentrations were significantly lower in urban lizards relative to the rural ones, however, the magnitude of the increase in corticosterone with stress did not differ across populations. Urban lizards also had a lower ratio of heterophils to lymphocytes, but elevated overall leukocyte count, as compared to lizards from the natural site. Urban and rural lizards did not differ in their prevalence of the blood parasite, Plasmodium mexicanum. Taken together, these results suggest that urban tree lizards may have suppressed overall corticosterone concentrations possibly from down-regulation as a result of frequent exposure to stressors, or increased access to urban resources. Also, urban lizards may have bolstered immunocompetence possibly from increased immune challenges, such as wounding, in the urban environment, or from greater energetic reserves being available as a result of access to urban resources.
PMCID: PMC2774757  PMID: 18594834
disturbance; corticosterone; leukocytes; urbanization; parasites
6.  Sex-specific visual performance: female lizards outperform males in motion detection 
Biology Letters  2009;5(6):732-734.
In animal communication, complex displays usually have multiple functions and, male and female receivers often differ in their utilization and response to different aspects of these displays. The perceptual variability hypothesis suggests that different aspects of complex signals differ in their ability to be detected and processed by different receivers. Here, we tested whether receiver male and female Sceloporus graciosus lizards differ in visual motion detection by measuring the latency to the visual grasp response to a motion stimulus. We demonstrate that in lizards that largely exhibit complex motions as courtship signals, female lizards are faster than males at visually detecting motion. These results highlight that differential signal utilization by the sexes may be driven by variability in the capacity to detect different display properties.
PMCID: PMC2827977  PMID: 19656865
sex difference; visual performance; motion detection; complex signals; animal communication; Sceloporus graciosus
7.  Alternative reproductive tactics in snail shell-brooding cichlids diverge in energy reserve allocation 
Ecology and Evolution  2015;5(10):2060-2069.
Life history theory predicts that the amount of resources allocated to reproduction should maximize an individual's lifetime reproductive success. So far, resource allocation in reproduction has been studied mainly in females. Intraspecific variation of endogenous energy storage and utilization patterns of males has received little attention, although these patterns may vary greatly between individuals pursuing alternative reproductive tactics (ARTs). ARTs are characterized by systematic variation of behavioral, physiological, and often morphological traits among same-sex conspecifics. Some individuals may rely on previously accumulated reserves, because of limited foraging opportunities during reproduction. Others may be able to continue foraging during reproduction, thus relying on reserves to a lesser extent. We therefore predicted that, if male tactics involve such divergent limitations and trade-offs within a species, ARTs should correspondingly differ in energy reserve allocation and utilization. To test this prediction, we studied short-term and long-term reserve storage patterns of males in the shell-brooding cichlid Lamprologus callipterus. In this species, bourgeois males investing in territory defense, courtship, and guarding of broods coexist with two distinct parasitic male tactics: (1) opportunistic sneaker males attempting to fertilize eggs by releasing sperm into the shell opening when a female is spawning; and (2) specialized dwarf males attempting to enter the shell past the spawning female to fertilize eggs from inside the shell. Sneaker males differed from other male types by showing the highest amount of accumulated short-term and long-term fat stores, apparently anticipating their upcoming adoption of the nest male status. In contrast, nest males depleted previously accumulated energy reserves with increasing nest holding period, as they invest heavily into costly reproductive behaviors while not taking up any food. This conforms to a capital breeder strategy. Dwarf males did not accumulate long-term fat stores at all, which they can afford due to their small behavioral effort during reproduction and their continued feeding activity, conforming to an income breeder strategy. Our data confirm that the resource storage patterns of males pursuing ARTs can diverge substantially, which adds to our understanding of the coexistence and maintenance of alternative reproductive patterns within species.
PMCID: PMC4449759  PMID: 26045956
Bourgeois males; capital and income breeding; energy allocation; fixed and plastic parasitic tactics; reserves; storage
8.  Limitation of reproductive success by food availability and litter size in the bank vole, Clethrionomys glareolus 
Food limitation has been suggested as one of the most important factors affecting life history evolution in terrestrial vertebrates. However, this inference is based mainly on evidence from birds, and reproductive trade-offs may differ among groups with different forms of parental care. To study whether the costs of enlarged litters (decreased mass of offspring) would appear when food is not limiting, we performed outdoor enclosure experiments in which we manipulated simultaneously the litter size (control versus litter plus two pups) and food availability (control versus food-supplemented) of female bank voles, Clethrionomys glareolus. The weaning success of females increased significantly in response to supplementary food. When females were provided with extra food, no differences were observed in body masses of weanlings of control and enlarged litters. Further, food-supplemented females grew to larger sizes during nursing than unsupplemented females. Our experiment suggests that energetic requirements during nursing constrain the number of offspring that can be raised successfully in a particular breeding attempt. The results also indicate that unlimited food resources may increase future reproductive potential of females because they can use more energy for somatic growth.
PMCID: PMC1689175
9.  Reproductive responses of birds to experimental food supplementation: a meta-analysis 
Frontiers in Zoology  2014;11:80.
Food availability is an important environmental cue for animals for deciding how much to invest in reproduction, and it ultimately affects population size. The importance of food limitation has been extensively studied in terrestrial vertebrate populations, especially in birds, by experimentally manipulating food supply. However, the factors explaining variation in reproductive decisions in response to food supplementation remain unclear. By performing meta-analyses, we aim to quantify the extent to which supplementary feeding affects several reproductive parameters in birds, and identify the key factors (life-history traits, behavioural factors, environmental factors, and experimental design) that can induce variation in laying date, clutch size and breeding success (i.e., number of fledglings produced) in response to food supplementation.
Food supplementation produced variable but mostly positive effects across reproductive parameters in a total of 201 experiments from 82 independent studies. The outcomes of the food effect were modulated by environmental factors, e.g., laying dates advanced more towards low latitudes, and food supplementation appeared not to produce any obvious effect on bird reproduction when the background level of food abundance in the environment was high. Moreover, the increase in clutch size following food addition was more pronounced in birds that cache food, as compared to birds that do not. Supplementation timing was identified as a major cause of variation in breeding success responses. We also document the absence of a detectable food effect on clutch size and breeding success when the target species had poor access to the feed due to competitive interactions with other animals.
Our findings indicate that, from the pool of bird species and environments reviewed, extra food is allocated to immediate reproduction in most cases. Our results also support the view that bird species have evolved different life-history strategies to cope with environmental variability in food supply. However, we encourage more research at low latitudes to gain knowledge on how resource allocation in birds changes along a latitudinal gradient. Our results also emphasize the importance of developing experimental designs that minimise competition for the supplemented food and the risk of reproductive bottle-necks due to inappropriate supplementation timings.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12983-014-0080-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4222371  PMID: 25386221
Effect size; Feeding experiment; Population regulation; Reproductive performance; Resource competition; Wildlife management
10.  The blue lizard spandrel and the island syndrome 
Many small vertebrates on islands grow larger, mature later, lay smaller clutches/litters, and are less sexually dimorphic and aggressive than their mainland relatives. This set of observations is referred to as the 'Island Syndrome'. The syndrome is linked to high population density on islands. We predicted that when population density is low and/or fluctuating insular vertebrates may evolve correlated trait shifts running opposite to the Island Syndrome, which we collectively refer to as the 'reversed island syndrome' (RIS) hypothesis. On the proximate level, we hypothesized that RIS is caused by increased activity levels in melanocortin receptors. Melanocortins are postranslational products of the proopiomelanocortin gene, which controls pleiotropically pigmentation, aggressiveness, sexual activity, and food intake in vertebrates.
We tested the RIS hypothesis performing a number of behavioral, genetic, and ontogenetic tests on a blue colored insular variant of the Italian Wall lizard Podarcis sicula, living on a small island off the Southern Italian coast. The population density of this blue-colored variant was generally low and highly fluctuating from one year to the next.
In keeping with our predictions, insular lizards were more aggressive and sexually dimorphic than their mainland relatives. Insular males had wide, peramorphic heads. The growth rate of insular females was slower than growth rates of mainland individuals of both sexes, and of insular males. Consequently, size and shape dimorphism are higher on the Island. As predicted, melanocortin receptors were much more active in individuals of the insular population. Insular lizards have a higher food intake rate than mainland individuals, which is consistent with the increased activity of melanocortin receptors. This may be adaptive in an unpredictable environment such as Licosa Island. Insular lizards of both sexes spent less time basking than their mainland relatives. We suspect this is a by-product (spandrel) of the positive selection for increased activity of melanocortins receptors.
We contend that when population density is either low or fluctuating annually as a result of environmental unpredictability, it may be advantageous to individuals to behave more aggressively, to raise their rate of food intake, and allocate more energy into reproduction.
PMCID: PMC2949876  PMID: 20854657
11.  Courtship and copulation in the adult male green anole: Effects of season, hormone and female contact on reproductive behavior and morphology 
Behavioural brain research  2006;177(2):177-185.
Interactions among reproductive season, testosterone (T) and female presence were investigated on the structure and function of forebrain and neuromuscular systems controlling courtship and copulation in the green anole lizard. Under breeding (BS) or non-breeding (NBS) environmental conditions, male green anoles were implanted with either T or blank capsules and exposed to one of three female stimulus conditions: physical, visual or no female contact. T and at least visual exposure to females increased courtship displays (extension of a throat fan, or dewlap), and these effects were greater during the BS than NBS. T also facilitated copulation, and did so to a greater extent in the BS. The hormone increased soma size in the preoptic area (POA) and amygdala (AMY), and in the AMY the effects were greater in the BS than NBS. Cross-sectional areas of copulatory organs and associated muscle fibers were enhanced by T, and more so in the BS than NBS. However, no effects on morphology of dewlap motoneurons or muscles or copulatory motoneurons were detected. Thus, (1) changes in behavior and neural and/or muscular morphology are not always parallel and (2) differences in responsiveness to T exist across seasons and among tissues.
PMCID: PMC2892282  PMID: 17174414
Sexual behavior; Courtship; Lizard; Reptile; Forebrain; Neuromuscular
12.  The effect of hydration state and energy balance on innate immunity of a desert reptile 
Frontiers in Zoology  2013;10:23.
Immune function is a vital physiological process that is often suppressed during times of resource scarcity due to investments in other physiological systems. While energy is the typical currency that has been examined in such trade-offs, limitations of other resources may similarly lead to trade-offs that affect immune function. Specifically, water is a critical resource with profound implications for organismal ecology, yet its availability can fluctuate at local, regional, and even global levels. Despite this, the effect of osmotic state on immune function has received little attention.
Using agglutination and lysis assays as measures of an organism’s plasma concentration of natural antibodies and capacity for foreign cell destruction, respectively, we tested the independent effects of osmotic state, digestive state, and energy balance on innate immune function in free-ranging and laboratory populations of the Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum. This desert-dwelling lizard experiences dehydration and energy resource fluctuations on a seasonal basis. Dehydration was expected to decrease innate immune function, yet we found that dehydration increased lysis and agglutination abilities in both lab and field studies, a relationship that was not simply an effect of an increased concentration of immune molecules. Laboratory-based differences in digestive state were not associated with lysis or agglutination metrics, although in our field population, a loss of fat stores was correlated with an increase in lysis.
Depending on the life history of an organism, osmotic state may have a greater influence on immune function than energy availability. Thus, consideration of osmotic state as a factor influencing immune function will likely improve our understanding of ecoimmunology and the disease dynamics of a wide range of species.
PMCID: PMC3660207  PMID: 23642164
Dehydration; Digestion; Energy balance; Hemagglutination; Hemolysis; Osmolality; Water
13.  Age-independent increases in male salivary testosterone during horticultural activity among Tsimane forager-farmers 
Testosterone plays an important role in mediating male reproductive trade-offs in many vertebrate species, augmenting muscle and influencing behavior necessary for male-male competition and mating-effort. Among humans, testosterone may also play a key role in facilitating male provisioning of offspring as muscular and neuromuscular performance are deeply influenced by acute changes in testosterone. This study examines acute changes in salivary testosterone among 63 Tsimane men ranging in age from 16–80 (mean 38.2) years during one-hour bouts of tree-chopping while clearing horticultural plots. The Tsimane forager-horticulturalists living in the Bolivian Amazon experience high energy expenditure associated with food production, have high levels of parasites and pathogens, and display significantly lower baseline salivary testosterone than age-matched US males. Mixed-effects models controlling for BMI and time of specimen collection reveal increased salivary testosterone (p<0.001) equivalent to a 48.6% rise, after one hour of tree chopping. Age had no effect on baseline (p=0.656) or change in testosterone (p=0.530); self-reported illness did not modify testosterone change (p=0.488). A comparison of these results to the relative change in testosterone during a competitive soccer tournament in the same population reveals larger relative changes in testosterone following resource production (tree chopping), compared to competition (soccer). These findings highlight the importance of moving beyond a unidimensional focus on changes in testosterone and male-male aggression to investigate the importance of testosterone-behavior interactions across additional male fitness-related activities. Acutely increased testosterone during muscularly intensive horticultural food production may facilitate male productivity and provisioning.
PMCID: PMC3810999  PMID: 24187482
Challenge hypothesis; testosterone; Tsimane; resource production; competition; physical activity
14.  Parasitism, life history traits and immune defence in cyprinid fish from Central Europe 
The main prediction of life-history theory is that optimal energy allocated among the traits is related to the growth, maintenance and survival. It is hypothesized that the optimal resource allocated to immune function, which generates resistance towards parasites and reduce the fitness losses caused by parasitism, is depending on other requirements for energetic resource and the benefits associated with them. The aims of this study are to investigate in a comparative way (1) how parasitism is related to fish life history traits (fecundity, longevity, mortality), (2) whether there is a trade-off between reproduction and immune investments in fish females (i.e. energetic hypothesis) and in males (i.e. immunohandicap hypothesis), (3) whether parasitism influences host immunity (spleen size) and reproduction (gonad size) in females and males.
Data on metazoan parasites of 23 cyprinid fish species from Central Europe were used for the analyses as well as new data collected from a field study. Ectoparasite species richness was negatively correlated with the fish mortality estimated by the k-value and positively correlated with fish body size, suggesting that parasite diversity increases with fish longevity. A negative relationship between spleen size and gonad size, controlling for fish body size, was found in females but not in males. Moreover, parasite abundance was positively correlated with fish spleen size and negatively with fish gonad size in females.
The comparative analyses using cyprinid fish species demonstrated that natural mortality could be considered as a factor contributing to the variability of parasite species richness and moreover, parasite species benefit from long-lived fish. The results obtained from the analyses investigating the potential trade-off between reproduction and immunity could be interpreted as an energetic trade-off between female reproduction and immune function. The lack of negative relationship between gonad size and spleen size in males did not support our prediction based on the immunohandicap hypothesis.
PMCID: PMC2270801  PMID: 18226212
15.  Evolving from static to dynamic signals: evolutionary compensation between two communicative signals 
Animal behaviour  2015;102:223-229.
Signals that convey related information may impose selection on each other, creating evolutionary links between different components of the communicative repertoire. Here, we ask about the consequences of the evolutionary loss of one signal (a colour patch) on another (a motion display) in Sceloporus lizards. We present data on male lizards of four species: two pairs of sister taxa representing two independent evolutionary losses of the static colour patch (Sceloporus cozumelae and Sceloporus parvus; Sceloporus siniferus and Sceloporus merriami). Males of the two species that have undergone an evolutionary loss of blue-belly patches (S. cozumelae, S. siniferus) were less active than their blue-bellied sister taxa (S. parvus, S. merriami), consistent with the suggestion that the belly patches were lost to reduce conspicuousness of species with high predation pressure. In contrast, the headbob display appears to have become more, rather than less, conspicuous over evolutionary time. The colour patch is exhibited primarily during aggressive encounters, whereas headbob displays are multifunction signals used in several different contexts, including aggressive encounters. Males of species that have lost the colour patch produced more motion displays, and the structure of those motion displays were more similar to those produced during combat. In both evolutionary episodes, a static colour signal appears to have been replaced by dynamic motion displays that can be turned off in the presence of predators and other unwanted receivers. The predominant pattern is one of evolutionary compensation and interactions between multiple signals that convey related information.
PMCID: PMC4400845  PMID: 25892737
communicative display; conspicuous visual signal; dynamic signal; evolutionary compensation; multimodal signal; Sceloporus; static signal
16.  Stress-Induced Tradeoffs in a Free-Living Lizard across a Variable Landscape: Consequences for Individuals and Populations 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49895.
Current life history theory suggests that the allocation of energetic resources between competing physiological needs should be dictated by an individual’s longevity and pace of life. One key physiological pathway likely to contribute to the partitioning of resources is the vertebrate stress response. By increasing circulating glucocorticoids the stress response can exert a suite of physiological effects, such as altering immune function. We investigated the effects of stress physiology on individual immunity, reproduction and oxidative stress, across an urban landscape. We sampled populations in and around St. George, Utah, examining corticosterone in response to restraint stress, two innate immune measures, reproductive output, and the presence of both reactive oxygen metabolites and antioxidant binding capacity, in populations of common side-blotched lizards (Uta stansburiana) experiencing variable levels of environmental stress. Additionally, using capture-mark-recapture techniques, we examined the relationships between these physiological parameters and population-level differences. Our results reveal elevated physiological stress corresponds with suppressed immunity and increased oxidative stress. Interestingly, urban populations experiencing the most physiological stress also exhibited greater reproductive output and decreased survival relative to rural populations experiencing less physiological stress, demonstrating a tradeoff between reproduction and life maintenance processes. Our results suggest that environmental stress may augment life history strategy in this fast-paced species, and that shifts in life history strategy can in turn affect the population at large. Finally, the urban environment poses definite challenges for organisms, and while it appears that side-blotched lizards are adjusting physiologically, it is unknown what fitness costs these physiological adjustments accrue.
PMCID: PMC3502225  PMID: 23185478
17.  Seasonal Energetic Stress in a Tropical Forest Primate: Proximate Causes and Evolutionary Implications 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e50108.
Animals facing seasonal variation in food availability experience selective pressures that favor behavioral adjustments such as migration, changes in activity, or shifts in diet. Eclectic omnivores such as many primates can process low-quality fallback food when preferred food is unavailable. Such dietary flexibility, however, may be insufficient to eliminate constraints on reproduction even for species that live in relatively permissive environments, such as moist tropical forests. Focusing on a forest-dwelling primate with a flexible diet (Cercopithecus mitis) we investigated whether females experience seasonal energetic stress and how it may relate to reproductive seasonality. We used fecal glucocorticoids (fGCs) as an indicator of energetic stress, controlling for the potentially confounding effects of social interactions and reproductive state. We modeled within-female fGC variation with General Linear Mixed Models, evaluating changes in feeding behavior and food availability as main effects. Regardless of reproductive state, fGCs increased when females shifted their diet towards fallback foods (mature leaves and other non-preferred items) and when they spent more time feeding, while fGCs decreased with feeding time on preferred items (insects, fruits, young leaves) and with the availability of young leaves. Changes in fruit availability had no general effects on fGCs, likely because fruits were sought out regardless of availability. As predicted, females in the energetically demanding stages of late pregnancy and early lactation showed greater increases in fGCs between periods of low versus high availability of fruits and young leaves than females in other reproductive states. Potential social stressors had no measurable effects on fGCs. Preliminary evidence suggests that seasonal energetic stress may affect the timing of infant independence from mothers and contribute to unusually long inter-birth intervals compared to closely related species of similar body size. Our findings highlight how the study of stress responses can provide insights into the proximate control of reproductive strategies.
PMCID: PMC3509155  PMID: 23209651
18.  Housing condition alters immunological and reproductive responses to day length in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) 
Hormones and behavior  2007;52(2):261-266.
During winter, increased thermoregulatory demands coincide with limited food availability necessitating physiological trade offs among expensive physiological processes resulting in seasonal breeding among small mammals. In the laboratory, short winter-like day lengths induce regression of the reproductive tract, but also enhance many aspects of immune function. It remains unspecified the extent to which bolstered immune responses in short days represent enhanced immune function per se compared to long days or represents energetic disinhibition mediated by the regression of the reproductive tract. Cohabitation of male Siberian hamsters with intact female conspecifics can block short-day reproductive regression. We sought to determine whether female cohabitation could also block the enhanced immune function associated with short days. Adult male Siberian hamsters were housed in long or short day lengths in one of three housing conditions: (1) single-housed, (2) housed with a same sex littermate, or (3) housed with an ovariectomized female. Delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) responses were assessed after 8 wk of photoperiod treatment. Housing with an ovariectomized female was not sufficient to block short-day reproductive regression, but prevented short-day enhancement of DTH responses. Housing with a male littermate did not alter reproductive or immune responses in either photoperiod. These data suggest that short day enhancement of immune function is independent of photoperiod-mediated changes in the reproductive system.
PMCID: PMC1955688  PMID: 17583707
Seasonality; photoperiodism; social-housing; immune function; Siberian hamsters; delayed-type hypersensitivity; steroid hormones
19.  Prenatal exposure to testosterone increases ectoparasite susceptibility in the common lizard (Lacerta vivipara). 
High levels of testosterone can benefit individual fitness, for example by increasing growth rate or ornament size, which may result in increased reproductive success. However, testosterone induces costs, such as a suppressed immune system, thereby generating trade-offs between growth or mate acquisition, and immunity. In birds and reptiles, females allocate steroids to their eggs, which may be a mechanism whereby females can influence the phenotype of their offspring. To our knowledge, only the benefits of early androgen exposure have been experimentally investigated to date. However, to understand this phenomenon, the costs also need to be evaluated. We manipulated testosterone levels in eggs of the viviparous common lizard and monitored growth, endurance and post-parturient responses to ectoparasites of the offspring. Testosterone-treated individuals had significantly higher growth rates than controls, but suffered a significant decrease in growth rate when exposed to ticks, whereas the corresponding difference for controls was non-significant. There was no difference in observed parasite load or leucocyte count between manipulated and control offspring. Thus, our results suggest that high testosterone levels during embryonic development have detrimental effects on immune function resulting in reduced growth rate, and that this must be taken into consideration when evaluating the potential adaptive value of maternal androgen allocation to eggs.
PMCID: PMC1691442  PMID: 12964990
20.  No Evidence for a Trade-Off between Reproductive Investment and Immunity in a Rodent 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e37182.
Life history theory assumes there are trade-offs between competing functions such as reproduction and immunity. Although well studied in birds, studies of the trade-offs between reproduction and immunity in small mammals are scarce. Here we examined whether reduced immunity is a consequence of reproductive effort in lactating Brandt's voles (Lasiopodomys brandtii). Specifically, we tested the effects of lactation on immune function (Experiment I). The results showed that food intake and resting metabolic rate (RMR) were higher in lactating voles (6≤ litter size ≤8) than that in non-reproductive voles. Contrary to our expectation, lactating voles also had higher levels of serum total Immunoglobulin G (IgG) and anti-keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH) IgG and no change in phytohemagglutinin (PHA) response and anti-KLH Immunoglobulin M (IgM) compared with non-reproductive voles, suggesting improved rather than reduced immune function. To further test the effect of differences in reproductive investment on immunity, we compared the responses between natural large (n≥8) and small litter size (n≤6) (Experiment II) and manipulated large (11–13) and small litter size (2–3) (Experiment III). During peak lactation, acquired immunity (PHA response, anti-KLH IgG and anti-KLH IgM) was not significantly different between voles raising large or small litters in both experiments, despite the measured difference in reproductive investment (greater litter size, litter mass, RMR and food intake in the voles raising larger litters). Total IgG was higher in voles with natural large litter size than those with natural small litter size, but decreased in the enlarged litter size group compared with control and reduced group. Our results showed that immune function is not suppressed to compensate the high energy demands during lactation in Brandt's voles and contrasting the situation in birds, is unlikely to be an important aspect mediating the trade-off between reproduction and survival.
PMCID: PMC3359356  PMID: 22649512
21.  Bridging Developmental Boundaries: Lifelong Dietary Patterns Modulate Life Histories in a Parthenogenetic Insect 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e111654.
Determining the effects of lifelong intake patterns on performance is challenging for many species, primarily because of methodological constraints. Here, we used a parthenogenetic insect (Carausius morosus) to determine the effects of limited and unlimited food availability across multiple life-history stages. Using a parthenogen allowed us to quantify intake by juvenile and adult females and to evaluate the morphological, physiological, and life-history responses to intake, all without the confounding influences of pair-housing, mating, and male behavior. In our study, growth rate prior to reproductive maturity was positively correlated with both adult and reproductive lifespans but negatively correlated with total lifespan. Food limitation had opposing effects on lifespan depending on when it was imposed, as it protracted development in juveniles but hastened death in adults. Food limitation also constrained reproduction regardless of when food was limited, although decreased fecundity was especially pronounced in individuals that were food-limited as late juveniles and adults. Additional carry-over effects of juvenile food limitation included smaller adult size and decreased body condition at the adult molt, but these effects were largely mitigated in insects that were switched to ad libitum feeding as late juveniles. Our data provide little support for the existence of a trade-off between longevity and fecundity, perhaps because these functions were fueled by different nutrient pools. However, insects that experienced a switch to the limited diet at reproductive maturity seem to have fueled egg production by drawing down body stores, thus providing some evidence for a life-history trade-off. Our results provide important insights into the effects of food limitation and indicate that performance is modulated by intake both within and across life-history stages.
PMCID: PMC4218793  PMID: 25365446
22.  Resource levels, reproduction and resistance to haematozoan infections 
Compromise of immune function during reproduction may form a link between parental effort and the cost of reproduction, but the role of environmental variation in structuring intra-individual life-history trade-offs has been poorly investigated. We manipulated the need for parental effort in Eurasian kestrels, Falco tinnunculus, by food-supplementing broods for three nestling periods, during which the natural main food supply (voles) varied, and found that parental parasitaemia was inversely related to yearly vole densities. The level of parasitaemia in females was, however, reduced by food supplements. No effect on males was expected, as earlier work has shown that only females responded to the supplements by changing their behaviour. We show directly that the likelihood of female parasitaemia was diminished by spending less time in flight-hunting, which was related to reproduction during a good vole year, to our supplementary feeding, and to being mated to a male with high parental effort. Our results represent a novel direct benefit for females in resource - providing species, linked to female, as well as offspring, well-being, and they provide insight into why the appearance of reproductive costs may be linked to gender or environmental conditions.
PMCID: PMC1689196
23.  Food Supplementation Fails to Reveal a Trade-Off between Incubation and Self-Maintenance in Female House Wrens 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e106260.
Incubating birds must allocate their time and energy between maintaining egg temperature and obtaining enough food to meet their own metabolic demands. We tested the hypothesis that female house wrens (Troglodytes aedon) face a trade-off between incubation and self-maintenance by providing females with supplemental food during incubation. We predicted that food supplementation would increase the amount of time females devoted to incubating their eggs, lower their baseline plasma corticosterone levels (a measure of chronic stress), and increase their body mass, haematocrit (a measure of anaemia), and reproductive success relative to control females. As predicted, food-supplemented females spent a greater proportion of time incubating their eggs than control females. Contrary to expectation, however, there was no evidence that food supplementation significantly influenced female baseline plasma corticosterone levels, body mass, haematocrit, or reproductive success. However, females with high levels of corticosterone at the beginning of incubation were more likely to abandon their nesting attempt after capture than females with low levels. Corticosterone significantly increased between the early incubation and early nestling stages of the breeding cycle in all females. These results suggest that although food supplementation results in a modest increase in incubation effort, it does not lead to significantly lower levels of chronic stress as reflected in lower baseline corticosterone levels. We conclude that female house wrens that begin the incubation period with low levels of plasma corticosterone can easily meet their own nutritional needs while incubating their eggs, and that any trade-off between incubation and self-feeding does not influence female reproductive success under the conditions at the time of our study.
PMCID: PMC4153615  PMID: 25184281
24.  Demographic and Phenotypic Effects of Human Mediated Trophic Subsidy on a Large Australian Lizard (Varanus varius): Meal Ticket or Last Supper? 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e34069.
Humans are increasingly subsidizing and altering natural food webs via changes to nutrient cycling and productivity. Where human trophic subsidies are concentrated and persistent within natural environments, their consumption could have complex consequences for wild animals through altering habitat preferences, phenotypes and fitness attributes that influence population dynamics. Human trophic subsidies conceptually create both costs and benefits for animals that receive increased calorific and altered nutritional inputs. Here, we evaluated the effects of a common terrestrial human trophic subsidies, human food refuse, on population and phenotypic (comprising morphological and physiological health indices) parameters of a large predatory lizard (∼2 m length), the lace monitor (Varanus varius), in southern Australia by comparison with individuals not receiving human trophic subsidies. At human trophic subsidies sites, lizards were significantly more abundant and their sex ratio highly male biased compared to control sites in natural forest. Human trophic subsidies recipient lizards were significantly longer, heavier and in much greater body condition. Blood parasites were significantly lower in human trophic subsidies lizards. Collectively, our results imply that human trophic subsidized sites were especially attractive to adult male lace monitors and had large phenotypic effects. However, we cannot rule out that the male-biased aggregations of large monitors at human trophic subsidized sites could lead to reductions in reproductive fitness, through mate competition and offspring survival, and through greater exposure of eggs and juveniles to predation. These possibilities could have negative population consequences. Aggregations of these large predators may also have flow on effects to surrounding food web dynamics through elevated predation levels. Given that flux of energy and nutrients into food webs is central to the regulation of populations and their communities, we advocate further studies of human trophic subsidies be undertaken to evaluate the potentially large ecological implications of this significant human environmental alteration.
PMCID: PMC3317928  PMID: 22509271
25.  Offspring pay sooner, parents pay later: experimental manipulation of body mass reveals trade-offs between immune function, reproduction and survival 
Frontiers in Zoology  2013;10:77.
Life-history theory predicts that organisms trade off survival against reproduction. However, the time scales on which various consequences become evident and the physiology mediating the cost of reproduction remain poorly understood. Yet, explaining not only which mechanisms mediate this trade-off, but also how fast or slow the mechanisms act, is crucial for an improved understanding of life-history evolution. We investigated three time scales on which an experimental increase in body mass could affect this trade-off: within broods, within season and between years. We handicapped adult skylarks (Alauda arvensis) by attaching extra weight during first broods to both adults of a pair. We measured body mass, immune function and return rates in these birds. We also measured nest success, feeding rates, diet composition, nestling size, nestling immune function and recruitment rates.
When nestlings of first broods fledged, parent body condition had not changed, but experimental birds experienced higher nest failure. Depending on the year, immune parameters of nestlings from experimental parents were either higher or lower than of control nestlings. Later, when parents were feeding their second brood, the balance between self-maintenance and nest success had shifted. Control and experimental adults differed in immune function, while mass and immune function of their nestlings did not differ. Although weights were removed after breeding, immune measurements during the second brood had the capacity to predict return rates to the next breeding season. Among birds that returned the next year, body condition and reproductive performance a year after the experiment did not differ between treatment groups.
We conclude that the balance between current reproduction and survival shifts from affecting nestlings to affecting parents as the reproductive season progresses. Furthermore, immune function is apparently one physiological mechanism involved in this trade-off. By unravelling a physiological mechanism underlying the trade-offs between current and future reproduction and by demonstrating the different time scales on which it acts, our study represents an important step in understanding a central theory of life-history evolution.
PMCID: PMC3878409  PMID: 24344978
Birds; Cost of reproduction; Ecoimmunology; Ecophysiology; Immunity; Life history; Carry-over effect; Avian

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