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Sex, age, spleen size, and kidney fat of red deer relative to infection intensities of the lungworm Elaphostrongylus cervi



Sex, age, spleen size, and kidney fat of red deer relative to infection intensities of the lungworm Elaphostrongylus cervi



Die Naturwissenschaften 94(7): 581-587



We analyzed the relationships among spleen size, body condition (measured as kidney fat), and larval counts of the nematode Elaphostrongylus cervi in red deer (Cervus elaphus). The aim was to investigate the interaction between host body condition and intensity of infection with parasites. As red deer are highly polygynous, we also tested whether these relationships varied with sex and age of the hosts. Kidney fat and spleen size were positively correlated in subadults (2-3 years old) and adults (>3 years old), but not in calves (<1 year old) or yearlings (1-2 years old). Spleen size was negatively associated with nematode load in subadult females and in adult males. These two age classes are potentially the most nutritionally stressed, as subadult hinds are still growing and often engaging in rearing their first calf, and adult stags were sampled just after the rut, which is recognized as a substantial energy drain in this age-sex class, as they compete to hold females during the mating season. Body condition related negatively to parasite count only in adult males. In the context of red deer life history, these findings suggest that spleen size is dependent on body condition and that it could be affected by variation in resource partitioning among immune defense, growth, and reproductive effort in red deer. For the first time in a wild mammal, the spleen mass is shown to be positively related to body condition and negatively related to parasite infection. We conclude that elucidating whether spleen mass reflects immune defense investment or a measure of general body condition should contribute to understanding topical issues in mammal ecology.

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Accession: 017023631

Download citation: RISBibTeXText

PMID: 17340117

DOI: 10.1007/s00114-007-0231-5



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