Integrating evolutionary and social representations theories, the current study examines the relationship between perceived disease threat and exclusionary immigration attitudes in the context of a potential avian influenza pandemic. This large-scale disease provides a realistic context for investigating the link between disease threat and immigration attitudes. The main aim of this cross-sectional study (N = 412) was to explore mechanisms through which perceived chronic and contextual disease threats operate on immigration attitudes. Structural equation models show that the relationship between chronic disease threat (germ aversion) and exclusionary immigration attitudes (assimilationist immigration criteria, health-based immigration criteria and desire to reduce the proportion of foreigners) was mediated by ideological and normative beliefs (social dominance orientation, belief in a dangerous world), but not by contextual disease threat (appraisal of avian influenza pandemic threat). Contextual disease threat only predicted support for health-based immigration criteria. The conditions under which real-life disease threats influence intergroup attitudes are scrutinized. Convergence and dissimilarity of evolutionary and social representational approaches in accounting for the link between disease threat and immigration attitudes are discussed. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.