Social effects on age-related and sex-specific immune cell profiles in a wild mammal

Sil H. J. van Lieshout*, Elisa Perez Badas, Michael W. T. Mason, Chris Newman, Christina D. Buesching, David W. Macdonald, Hannah Dugdale

*Corresponding author for this work

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Evidence for age-related changes in innate and adaptive immune responses is increasing in wild populations. Such changes have been linked to fitness, and knowledge of the factors driving immune response variation is important for understanding the evolution of immunity. Age-related changes in immune profiles may be owing to factors such as immune system development, sex-specific behaviour and responses to environmental conditions. Social environments may also contribute to variation in immunological responses, for example, through transmission of pathogens and stress arising from resource and mate competition. Yet, the impact of the social environment on age-related changes in immune cell profiles is currently understudied in the wild. Here, we tested the relationship between leukocyte cell composition (proportion of neutrophils and lymphocytes [innate and adaptive immunity, respectively] that were lymphocytes) and age, sex and group size in a wild population of European badgers (Meles meles). We found that the proportion of lymphocytes in early life was greater in males in smaller groups compared to larger groups, but with a faster age-related decline in smaller groups. By contrast, the proportion of lymphocytes in females was not significantly related to age or group size. Our results provide evidence of sex-specific age-related changes in immune cell profiles in a wild mammal, which are influenced by the social environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20200234
Pages (from-to)20200234
Number of pages7
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 30-Jul-2020

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