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Variation in sex pheromone emission does not reflect immunocompetence but affects attractiveness of male burying beetles—a combination of laboratory and field experiments

Chemnitz, Johanna, Bagrii, Nadiia, Ayasse, Manfred, Steiger, Sandra
Die Naturwissenschaften 2017 v.104 no.7-8 pp. 53
Nicrophorus vespilloides, antigens, encapsulation, females, field experimentation, immune response, immune system, immunocompetence, life history, males, models, sex pheromones
Life history theory predicts a trade-off between male sexual trait expression and immunocompetence. Using burying beetles, Nicrophorus vespilloides, as a model, we investigated the relationship between male immune function, sex pheromone emission, and attractiveness under field conditions. In the first experiment, we tested whether there is a positive correlation between immune capacity, sex pheromone characteristics (quantity, relative composition, and time invested in pheromone emission), and male attractiveness. As a measurement of immune capacity, we used an individual’s encapsulation ability against a novel antigen. In the second experiment, we specifically examined whether a trade-off between chemical trait expression and immune function existed. To this end, we challenged the immune system and measured the subsequent investment in sex pheromone emission and the attractiveness of the male under field conditions. We found that a male’s immunocompetence was neither related to the emission of the male’s sex pheromone nor to its attractiveness in the field. Furthermore, none of the immune-challenge treatments affected the subsequent investment in pheromone emission or number of females attracted. However, we showed that the same males that emitted a high quantity of their sex pheromone in the laboratory were able to attract more females in the field. Our data suggest that the chemical signal is not a reliable predictor of a male’s immunocompetence but rather is a general important fitness-related trait, with a higher emission of the sex pheromone measured in the laboratory directly affecting the attractiveness of a male under field conditions.