How does the quality of an animal’s immune system affect its attractiveness and ability to produce offspring?
How do ecology and mating systems affect how species invest in immune function?
All animals face attack by pathogens and parasites. These challenges affect the host’s immune system, which in turn can affect how much the host can invest in other important traits, such as reproduction and longevity.
Ecological immunology is a field of research that employs the experimental designs of evolutionary and behavioural ecology to dissect and understand patterns in disease prevalence and immune function. Ecological immunology explores the fundamental trade-offs between investment into immune function and other costly life-history traits.
Researchers in our Centre use a variety of insect model species, including Indian meal moths and Australian field crickets, to explore how variation in immune function can affect a broad range of sexually selected traits. For example, we are exploring how artificially activating an individual’s immune system affects its ability to attract mates, looking at traits such as courtship song and pheromone production.
We also study traits that are important after mating has taken place, and so we also investigate how variation in immune system quality affects sperm quality and egg production.
The Centre is also interested in bigger ecological questions regarding the evolution of immunity, such as the effect of the social and sexual environment on investment into immunity, both within and across species.