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Keywords:

  • Immunity;
  • lytic activity;
  • nuptial feeding;
  • phenoloxidase activity;
  • sperm transfer;
  • trade-off

Abstract

Mating is often accompanied by decreased female immune function across numerous animals systems, suggesting that immune suppression is a widespread reproductive cost. However, the trade-off between immunity and reproduction can be minimized when females have access to abundant nutrient resources. This observation suggests that the nuptial gifts provided by males in many insect systems may help to offset the common immunological cost to reproduction. In the present study, this hypothesis is tested in the ground cricket Allonemobius socius (Scudder), whose females receive a sizeable haemolymph-based gift. Accordingly, male gift donation is controlled by covering the tibial spur (the source of the gift) of randomly chosen males with clear nail polish. The influence of sperm transfer on female immunity is disentangled from that of the nuptial gift by also examining females who fail to receive sperm during mating (spermatophore transfer has a 40% failure rate in virgin males). It is predicted that females who receive a nuptial gift will exhibit superior immune function compared with those who receive no gift. The results show that sperm transfer reduces female immune function, which is an expected immunological cost of reproduction. By contrast to the prediction, nuptial gifts do not minimize the immunological cost of reproduction in this system. Unexpectedly, the receipt of a gift appears to decrease female immune function independent of sperm transfer. The findings suggest that the nuptial gift, similar to sperm, signals the female to begin her reproductive investment, causing limited resources to be reallocated from immune function.