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Keywords:

  • ageing;
  • cost of immunity;
  • intrinsic mortality;
  • keyhole limpet haemocyanin;
  • lifespan;
  • sex-biased longevity

Investment of resources in immune defences, despite obvious short-term benefits, may be detrimental to long-term maintenance and thus decrease longevity in absence of parasites. In addition, females and males may differ in immune investment and intrinsic longevity because they are subjected to different degrees of sexual competition and extrinsic mortality. In order to test if sex-specific investment in mounting an immune response reduced longevity, we compared the longevity of captive male and female common voles Microtus arvalis regularly challenged with keyhole limpet haemocyanin, an antigen which elicits the production of antibodies, to the longevity of voles injected with the corresponding antigen-free buffer (phosphate-buffered saline). Injections were repeated every 28 days to mimic a chronic infection. The magnitude of immune response did not vary between males and females and did not affect longevity. Overall, females lived longer than males, independently of the immune challenge. Thus, the long-term costs of immunity seem small in voles. The longevity pattern is consistent with the prediction that male-biased predation or parasitism in the wild causes reduced intrinsic lifespan, but this reduction is not mediated by a decrease in male immunity. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 97, 328–333.