Genetic covariance between indices of body condition and immunocompetence in a passerine bird
Deborah J Gleeson1, Mark W Blows1 and Ian PF Owens2
1School of Integrative Biology, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane Queensland 4072, Australia
2Division of Biology and NERC Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7PY, UK
Condition-dependence is a ubiquitous feature of animal life histories and has important implications for both natural and sexual selection. Mate choice, for instance, is typically based on condition-dependent signals. Theory predicts that one reason why condition-dependent signals may be special is that they allow females to scan for genes that confer high parasite resistance. Such explanations require a genetic link between immunocompetence and body condition, but existing evidence is limited to phenotypic associations. It remains unknown, therefore, whether females selecting males with good body condition simply obtain a healthy mate, or if they acquire genes for their offspring that confer high immunocompetence.
Here we use a cross-foster experimental design to partition the phenotypic covariance in indices of body condition and immunocompetence into genetic, maternal and environmental effects in a passerine bird, the zebra finch Taeniopygia guttata. We show that there is significant positive additive genetic covariance between an index of body condition and an index of cell-mediated immune response. In this case, genetic variance in the index of immune response explained 56% of the additive genetic variance in the index of body condition.
Our results suggest that, in the context of sexual selection, females that assess males on the basis of condition-dependent signals may gain genes that confer high immunocompetence for their offspring. More generally, a genetic correlation between indices of body condition and imuunocompetence supports the hypothesis that parasite resistance may be an important target of natural selection. Additional work is now required to test whether genetic covariance exists among other aspects of both condition and immunocompetence.
BMC Evolutionary Biology 2005, 5:61. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.