- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.