Trade-offs in the allocation of finite-energy resources among immunological defences and other physiological processes are believed to influence infection risk and disease severity in food-limited wildlife populations. However, this prediction has received little experimental investigation. Here we test the hypothesis that food limitation impairs the ability of wild field voles (Microtus agrestis) to mount an immune response against parasite infections. We conducted a replicated experiment on vole populations maintained in large outdoor enclosures during boreal winter, using food supplementation and anthelmintic treatment of intestinal nematodes. Innate immune responses against intestinal parasite infections were compared between food-supplemented and non-supplemented voles. Voles with high food availability mounted stronger immune responses against intestinal nematode infections than food-limited voles. No food effects were seen in immune responses to intracellular coccidian parasites, possibly owing to their ability to avoid activation of innate immune pathways. Our findings demonstrate that food availability constrains vole immune responses against nematode infections, and support the concept that spatio-temporal heterogeneity in food availability creates variation in infectious disease susceptibility.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3469719.
- Received June 1, 2016.
- Accepted September 5, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.