Does innate immune function decline with age in captive ruffs Philomachus pugnax?

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  • 1 Department of Biology, Advanced Facility for Avian Research, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, N6A 5B7, Canada
  • 2 Department of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen’s Park Circle, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2C6, Canada
  • 3 Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, 25 Willcocks Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 3B2, Canada
  • 4 Centre for Wildlife Ecology, Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC, V5A 1S6, Canada

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Immunosenescence, the decline of immune function with age, results in increased risk of infection as an individual ages. The underlying reasons are still poorly understood. Here, we ask whether the rate of decline of an immune indicator is positively correlated with the cost of maintaining it, as predicted by optimal resource allocation theory. Using 30 female ruffs Philomachus pugnax ranging in age from 0.5-12 years we found no effect of age on five indicators of constitutive innate immunity, which is cheap to use and maintain. Body temperature increase following injection with lipopolysaccharide is an indicator of induced innate immunity, which is energetically expensive, and showed a curvilinear relationship with age, with a maximum in middle-aged birds. Our results suggest that changes in immune function with age may depend on the energetic cost of using an immune trait.

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