Aging in personal and social immunity: do immune traits senesce at the same rate?

Catherine E. Reavey, Neil D. Warnock, Amy P. Garbett, Sheena C. Cotter*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
226 Downloads (Pure)


How much should an individual invest in immunity as it grows older? Immunity is costly and its value is likely to change across an organism's lifespan. A limited number of studies have focused on how personal immune investment changes with age in insects, but we do not know how social immunity, immune responses that protect kin, changes across lifespan, or how resources are divided between these two arms of the immune response. In this study, both personal and social immune functions are considered in the burying beetle, Nicrophorus vespilloides. We show that personal immune function declines (phenoloxidase levels) or is maintained (defensin expression) across lifespan in nonbreeding beetles but is maintained (phenoloxidase levels) or even upregulated (defensin expression) in breeding individuals. In contrast, social immunity increases in breeding burying beetles up to middle age, before decreasing in old age. Social immunity is not affected by a wounding challenge across lifespan, whereas personal immunity, through PO, is upregulated following wounding to a similar extent across lifespan. Personal immune function may be prioritized in younger individuals in order to ensure survival until reproductive maturity. If not breeding, this may then drop off in later life as state declines. As burying beetles are ephemeral breeders, breeding opportunities in later life may be rare. When allowed to breed, beetles may therefore invest heavily in "staying alive" in order to complete what could potentially be their final reproductive opportunity. As parental care is important for the survival and growth of offspring in this genus, staying alive to provide care behaviors will clearly have fitness payoffs. This study shows that all immune traits do not senesce at the same rate. In fact, the patterns observed depend upon the immune traits measured and the breeding status of the individual.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4365-4375
Number of pages11
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 01 Oct 2015


  • Nicrophorus
  • Aging
  • Defensin
  • Ecological immunology
  • Insect
  • Lifespan
  • Lysozyme
  • Parental care
  • Phenoloxidase
  • Wounding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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