A comparative study of white blood cell counts and disease risk in carnivores.

Published

Journal Article

In primates, baseline levels of white blood cell (WBC) counts are related to mating promiscuity. It was hypothesized that differences in the primate immune system reflect pathogen risks from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Here, we test for the generality of this result by examining hypotheses involving behavioural, ecological and life-history factors in carnivores. Again, we find a significant correlation in carnivores between mating promiscuity and elevated levels of WBC counts. In addition, we find relationships with measures of sociality, substrate use and life-history parameters. These comparative results across independent taxonomic orders indicate that the evolution of the immune system, as represented by phylogenetic differences in basal levels of blood cell counts, is closely linked to disease risk involved with promiscuous mating and associated variables. We found only limited support for an association between the percentage of meat in the diet and WBC counts, which is consistent with the behavioural and physiological mechanisms that carnivores use to avoid parasite transmission from their prey. We discuss additional comparative questions related to taxonomic differences in disease risk, modes of parasite transmission and implications for conservation biology.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Nunn, CL; Gittleman, JL; Antonovics, J

Published Date

  • February 2003

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 270 / 1513

Start / End Page

  • 347 - 356

PubMed ID

  • 12639313

Pubmed Central ID

  • 12639313

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1471-2954

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0962-8452

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1098/rspb.2002.2249

Language

  • eng