Antler asymmetry and immunity in reindeer
- Cite this article as:
- Lagesen, K. & Folstad, I. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (1998) 44: 135. doi:10.1007/s002650050524
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Fluctuating asymmetry (FA) measures an individual's ability to undergo identical development in bilaterally symmetrical characters and may indicate sensitivity to environmental stress. FA in ornamental characters is often positively related to parasite intensities, which are important environmental stressors. Parasites affect and are affected by several parts of the immune system, and the ability to resist parasites may be signalled via FA in ornaments. In this study we examined reindeer antlers, which show FA, demonstrated to be caused by parasite infections. We measured antler FA, immune parameters (i.e. densities of different classes of leukocytes, IgG levels and abomasal lymph node numbers) and intensity of abomasal nematodes in free-ranging 1.5-year-old male reindeer slaughtered in the early part of their rutting period. We found a relationship between parasite intensity and immune parameters suggesting that our measures of immune activity reflect density of current parasite infections. More important, these immune parameters were associated with FA in both the main beam length and numbers of antler tines. The immune parameters were, however, only weakly correlated to antler size. This indicates that FA, but not size, of antlers grown during exposure to a multitude of environmental stressors may reveal information about individual immunity that can be important for host-parasite interactions. Antler FA may therefore communicate an individual's quality during the rut in reindeer.