Fitness consequences of cellular immunity: studies with Daphnia magna and its sterilizing bacterial parasite
Auld, Stuart Kenneth John Robert
Immune responses are presumed to contribute to host fitness, either by fighting off infections or via immunopathology. Research in this thesis sought to relate the magnitude of a putative immune response to infection and host and parasite fitness. The experiments and field studies presented here all focus on the interactions between the freshwater crustacean, Daphnia magna and its sterilizing bacterial endoparasite, Pasteuria ramosa, using the number of circulating haemocytes as a measure of host immune activity. I found substantial genetic variation in Daphnia’s cellular response to P. ramosa, and that Daphnia genotypes that mount the strongest cellular responses are the most likely to get infected and suffer sterilization. Thus, a strong cellular response is associated with low, as opposed to high host fitness potential. There were also some host genotypes that mounted a weaker cellular response and did not go on to suffer infection, and some that lacked a cellular response and also never suffered infection with P. ramosa. These findings led to a heuristic two-stage model for infection, where the parasite has to (1) pass from the host gut to haemolymph and then (2) successfully overcome haemolymph-based immune effectors to reproduce and achieve fitness. I also demonstrate that both the magnitude of host cellular response and likelihood of infection increases with initial parasite dose in susceptible host genotypes, and that host cellular response is associated with likely infection under both host and parasite genetic variation. Parasitised Daphnia also have substantially more circulating haemocytes than their healthy counterparts in both the laboratory and in the wild, where there is substantial genetic and environmental variation. This is one of the very few examples of how an immune response designates low host and high parasite fitness potential in a wild system. Finally, using a mixture of field study and common garden experiment, I demonstrate evolution in parasite infection traits over the course of an epidemic in a wild population, and that this evolution is associated with a decline in host abundance.
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