Medindia

X

Ability to Endure Parasites can Influence Reproductive Success

by Kathy Jones on  August 8, 2014 at 11:11 PM Environmental Health   - G J E 4
A joint study carried out by researchers at Princeton University and the University of Edinburgh, and published in the journal PLoS Biology, reveals that an animal's ability to endure internal parasites has a strong influence on its reproductive success, a finding that can be used in boosting human and livestock's resistance to infection.
 Ability to Endure Parasites can Influence Reproductive Success
Ability to Endure Parasites can Influence Reproductive Success
Advertisement

The researchers used 25 years of data on a population of wild sheep living on an island in northwest Scotland to assess the evolutionary importance of infection tolerance. They first examined the relationship between each sheep's body weight and its level of infection with nematodes, tiny parasitic worms that thrive in the gastrointestinal tract of sheep. The level of infection was determined by the number of nematode eggs per gram of the animal's feces.

Advertisement
While all of the animals lost weight as a result of nematode infection, the degree of weight loss varied widely: an adult female sheep with the maximum egg count of 2,000 eggs per gram of feces might lose as little as 2 percent or as much as 20 percent of her body weight. The researchers then tracked the number of offspring produced by each of nearly 2,500 sheep and found that sheep with the highest tolerance to nematode infection produced the most offspring, while sheep with lower parasite tolerance left fewer descendants.

To measure individual differences in parasite tolerance, the researchers used statistical methods that could be extended to studies of disease epidemiology in humans, said senior author Andrea Graham, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton. Medical researchers have long understood that people with similar levels of parasite infection can experience very different symptoms. But biologists are just beginning to appreciate the evolutionary importance of this individual variation.

"For a long time, people assumed that if you knew an individual's parasite burden, you could perfectly predict its health and survival prospects," Graham said. "More recently, evolutionary biologists have come to realize that's not the case, and so have developed statistical tools to measure variation among hosts in the fitness consequences of infection."

Graham and her colleagues used the wealth of information collected over many years on the Soay sheep living on the island of Hirta, about 100 miles west of the Scottish mainland. These sheep provide a unique opportunity to study the effects of parasites, weather, vegetation changes and other factors on a population of wild animals. Brought to the island by people about 4,000 years ago, the sheep have run wild since the last permanent human inhabitants left Hirta in 1930. By keeping a detailed pedigree, the researchers of the St Kilda Soay Sheep Project can trace any individual's ancestry back to the beginning of the project in 1985, and, conversely, can count the number of descendants left by each individual.



Source: Eurekalert
Advertisement

Post your Comments

Comments should be on the topic and should not be abusive. The editorial team reserves the right to review and moderate the comments posted on the site.
User Avatar
* Your comment can be maximum of 2500 characters
Notify me when reply is posted I agree to the terms and conditions

You May Also Like

Advertisement
View All

More News on: