Age-dependent trade-offs between immunity and male, but not female, reproduction



  1. Immune function is costly and must be traded off against other life-history traits, such as gamete production. Studies of immune trade-offs typically focus on adult individuals, yet the juvenile stage can be a highly protracted period when reproductive resources are acquired and immune challenges are ubiquitous. Trade-offs during development are likely to be important, yet no studies have considered changes in adult responses to immune challenges imposed at different stages of juvenile development.
  2. By manipulating the timing of a bacterial immune challenge to the larvae of the cotton bollworm moth, we examined potential trade-offs between investment into immunity at different stages of juvenile development (early or late) and subsequent adult reproductive investment into sperm or egg production.
  3. Our data reveal an age-dependent trade-off between juvenile immune function and adult male reproductive investment. Activation of the immune response during late development resulted in a reduced allocation of resources to eupyrene (fertilizing) sperm production. Immune activation from the injection procedure itself (irrespective of whether individuals were injected with an immune elicitor or a control solution) also caused reproductive trade-offs; males injected early in development produced fewer apyrene (nonfertilizing) sperm. Contrary to many other studies, our study demonstrates these immune trade-offs under ad libitum nutritional conditions. No trade-offs were observed between female immune activation and adult reproductive investment.
  4. We suggest the differences in trade-offs observed between male sperm types and the absence of reproductive trade-offs in females may be the result of ontogenetic differences in gamete production in this species. Our data reveal developmental windows when trade-offs between immune function and gametic investment are made, and highlight the importance of considering multiple developmental periods when making inferences regarding the fundamental trade-offs expected between immune function and reproduction.