The Metabolic Pace-of-Life Model: Incorporating Ectothermic Organisms into the Theory of Vertebrate Ecoimmunology

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Integrative and Comparative Biology


We propose a new heuristic model that incorporates metabolic rate and pace of life to predict a vertebrate species’ investment in adaptive immune function. Using reptiles as an example, we hypothesize that animals with low metabolic rates will invest more in innate immunity compared with adaptive immunity. High metabolic rates and body temperatures should logically optimize the efficacy of the adaptive immune system—through rapid replication of T and B cells, prolific production of induced antibodies, and kinetics of antibody–antigen interactions. In current theory, the precise mechanisms of vertebrate immune function oft are inadequately considered as diverse selective pressures on the evolution of pathogens. We propose that the strength of adaptive immune function and pace of life together determine many of the important dynamics of host–pathogen evolution, namely, that hosts with a short lifespan and innate immunity or with a long lifespan and strong adaptive immunity are expected to drive the rapid evolution of their populations of pathogens. Long-lived hosts that rely primarily on innate immune functions are more likely to use defense mechanisms of tolerance (instead of resistance), which are not expected to act as a selection pressure for the rapid evolution of pathogens’ virulence.



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