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Keywords:

  • Eupoecilia ambiguella;
  • haemocyte count;
  • immune-challenged larvae;
  • larval body size;
  • larval immune defence;
  • phenoloxidase enzyme cascade

Despite the obvious benefit of an immune system, its efficacy against pathogens and parasites may show great variation among individuals, populations and species. Understanding the causes of this variation is becoming a central theme in ecology. Many biotic and abiotic factors are known to influence immunocompetence (temperature, age, etc.). However, for a given age, size among individuals varies, probably as a result of accumulated resources. Thus, these variable resources could be allocated to immune defence and, consequently, body size may explain part of the variation in immune responsiveness. However, the influence of body size on immune defence is often overlooked. The present study investigates variations in haemocyte count and phenoloxidase activity in larvae of the phytophagous vine moth Eupoecilia ambiguella Hübner of the same age, although differing in body size. The measurements of immune function are made both when the insects are immunologically naïve and 24 h after a bacterial immune challenge. The base levels of these immune parameters do not covary with body size in naïve larvae. After the bacterial immune challenge, more haemocytes and phenoloxidase enzyme are mobilized, and the mobilization of these immune effectors is correlated positively with individual body size. Thus, larger larvae exhibit higher immunocompetence than smaller ones, suggesting that smaller larvae might be more vulnerable to infection. These results suggest that body size is probably an underestimated variable, which nevertheless modulates the insect immune system and should thus be considered as a covariate in insect immune system measurement. It is recommended therefore, that body size should be taken into account in ecological immunity studies with insects. © 2013 The Royal Entomological Society