Female pipefish can detect the immune status of their mates
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Given the ubiquity of the parasites and their important fitness consequences on mate and offspring condition, selection for the ability to distinguish healthy from parasitized potential mates is a key process to enhance Darwinian fitness. In this study, we experimentally evaluated how the immunological experience of two potential partners influences mate choice, using the sex-role-reversed pipefish Syngnathus typhle. We exposed S. typhle to immune challenges with heat-killed Vibrio bacteria and investigated whether the activation of the immune system determined mate preferences. Our results demonstrate that the immune status of the potential partners influenced female mate preference, such that females that were exposed to an immune challenge became choosy and favored unchallenged males. Males, however, did not show any preferences for female immune status. In this context, we discuss mate choice decisions and behavioral plasticity as a complex result of immune challenge, severity of infection, as well as trans-generational effects.
KeywordsMate choice Immune system Plasticity Terminal investment Trans-generational immune priming Syngnathus typhle Vibrio
Funding for this study was provided by the Volkswagen Foundation and the Future Ocean Excellence Cluster (to SHL and OR), Zoologiska stiftelsen, Inez Johanssons stiftelse and Stiftelsen Lars Hiertas minne (JS), and the Norwegian Research Council (grant number 186163/V40) (GR). We thank R. Höglund and A. Berglund for the field assistance, A. Berglund for providing field equipment, and Ar Research Station for the working facilities. We further thank T.B.H. Reusch, P. Schubert, and two anonymous reviewers for the support and comments on the manuscript.
The experiment was performed according to current national legislation on Animal Welfare under license Dnr S 155-09 from the Swedish Board of Agriculture and the Ministerium für Landwirtschaft, Umwelt und ländliche Räume des Landes Schleswig-Holstein (project: “Effects of global change on the immunological interaction of pipefish and their natural bacterial communities”). The research facilities at Ar research station are approved to house and to use research animals (Dnr A10 2012/215 from the Swedish Board of Agriculture, and Dnr C10-2006/570 from the former Swedish animal welfare agency). Everyone involved in the care and handling of the fish had adequate training, including training in biology of research animals, legislation, housing and care of research animals, animal experimental techniques, and ethics.
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