A direct physiological trade-off between personal and social immunity

Sheena C Cotter, Joanne E Littlefair, Peter J Grantham, Rebecca M Kilner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)
298 Downloads (Pure)


1. Recent work shows that organisms possess two strategies of immune response: personal immunity, which defends an individual, and social immunity, which protects other individuals, such as kin. However, it is unclear how individuals divide their limited resources between protecting themselves and protecting others.
2. Here, with experiments on female burying beetles, we challenged the personal immune system and measured subsequent investment in social immunity (antibacterial activity of the anal exudates).
3. Our results show that increased investment in one aspect of personal immunity (wound repair) causes a temporary decrease in one aspect of the social immune response.
4. Our experiments further show that by balancing investment in personal and social immunity in this way during one breeding attempt, females are able to defend their subsequent lifetime reproductive success.
5. We discuss the nature of the physiological trade-off between personal and social immunity in species that differ in the degree of eusociality and coloniality, and suggest that it may also vary within species in relation to age and partner contributions to social immunity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)846-853
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number4
Early online date30 Jan 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013

Bibliographical note

© 2013 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology © 2013 British Ecological Society.


  • antibacterial
  • ecological immunology
  • insect
  • lysozyme
  • Nicrophorus
  • wounding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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