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Ecoimmunity in Darwin's Finches: Invasive Parasites Trigger Acquired Immunity in the Medium Ground Finch (Geospiza fortis)

Author(s): Huber, Sarah K.; Owen, Jeb P.; Koop, Jennifer A.H.; King, Marisa O.; Grant, Peter R.; et al

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Abstract: Background: Invasive parasites are a major threat to island populations of animals. Darwin’s finches of the Galapagos Islands are under attack by introduced pox virus (Poxvirus avium) and nest flies (Philornis downsi). We developed assays for parasite-specific antibody responses in Darwin’s finches (Geospiza fortis), to test for relationships between adaptive immune responses to novel parasites and spatial-temporal variation in the occurrence of parasite pressure among G. fortis populations. Methodology/Principal Findings: We developed enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) for the presence of antibodies in the serum of Darwin’s finches specific to pox virus or Philornis proteins. We compared antibody levels between bird populations with and without evidence of pox infection (visible lesions), and among birds sampled before nesting (prior to nest-fly exposure) versus during nesting (with fly exposure). Birds from the Pox-positive population had higher levels of pox-binding antibodies. Philornis-binding antibody levels were higher in birds sampled during nesting. Female birds, which occupy the nest, had higher Philornis-binding antibody levels than males. The study was limited by an inability to confirm pox exposure independent of obvious lesions. However, the lasting effects of pox infection (e.g., scarring and lost digits) were expected to be reliable indicators of prior pox infection. Conclusions/Significance: This is the first demonstration, to our knowledge, of parasite-specific antibody responses to multiple classes of parasites in a wild population of birds. Darwin’s finches initiated acquired immune responses to novel parasites. Our study has vital implications for invasion biology and ecological immunology. The adaptive immune response of Darwin’s finches may help combat the negative effects of parasitism. Alternatively, the physiological cost of mounting such a response could outweigh any benefits, accelerating population decline. Tests of the fitness implications of parasite-specific immune responses in Darwin’s finches are urgently needed.
Publication Date: 6-Jan-2010
Electronic Publication Date: 6-Jan-2010
Citation: Huber, Sarah K., Owen, Jeb P., Koop, Jennifer A.H., King, Marisa O., Grant, Peter R., Grant, B. Rosemary, Clayton, Dale H. (2010). Ecoimmunity in Darwin's Finches: Invasive Parasites Trigger Acquired Immunity in the Medium Ground Finch (Geospiza fortis). PLoS ONE, 5 (1), e8605 - e8605. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008605
DOI: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008605
EISSN: 1932-6203
Pages: e8605 - e8605
Type of Material: Journal Article
Journal/Proceeding Title: PLoS ONE
Version: Final published version. This is an open access article.

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