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Keywords:

  • costs of immunity;
  • ecological immunology;
  • immune evasion;
  • plasticity;
  • specificity;
  • trade-offs

Abstract

Defending self against nonself is a major problem in a world in which individuals are under constant pressure from parasites that gain fitness benefits at a cost to their host. Defences that have evolved are diverse, and range from behavioural adaptations to physiochemical barriers. The immune defence is a final line of protection and is therefore of great importance. Given this importance, variability in immune defence would seem counterintuitive, yet that is what is observed. Ecological immunology attempts to explain this variation by invoking costs and trade-offs, and in turn proposing that the optimal immune defence will vary over environments. Studies in this field have been highly successful in establishing an evolutionary ecology framework around immunology. However, in order enrich our understanding of this area, it is perhaps time to broaden the focus to include parasites as more than simply elicitors of immune responses. In essence, to view immunity as produced by the host, the environment, and the active involvement of parasites.