A direct physiological trade-off between personal and social immunity


Correspondence author. E-mail: s.cotter@qub.ac.uk


  1. Recent work shows that organisms possess two strategies of immune response: personal immunity, which defends an individual, and social immunity, which protects other individuals, such as kin. However, it is unclear how individuals divide their limited resources between protecting themselves and protecting others.
  2. Here, with experiments on female burying beetles, we challenged the personal immune system and measured subsequent investment in social immunity (antibacterial activity of the anal exudates).
  3. Our results show that increased investment in one aspect of personal immunity (wound repair) causes a temporary decrease in one aspect of the social immune response.
  4. Our experiments further show that by balancing investment in personal and social immunity in this way during one breeding attempt, females are able to defend their subsequent lifetime reproductive success.
  5. We discuss the nature of the physiological trade-off between personal and social immunity in species that differ in the degree of eusociality and coloniality, and suggest that it may also vary within species in relation to age and partner contributions to social immunity.