Parasites have been argued to influence clutch size evolution, but past work and theory has largely focused on within-species optimization solutions rather than clearly addressing among-species variation. The effects of parasites on clutch size variation among species can be complex, however, because different parasites can induce age-specific differences in mortality that can cause clutch size to evolve in different directions. We provide a conceptual argument that differences in immunocompetence among species should integrate differences in overall levels of parasite-induced mortality to which a species is exposed. We test this assumption and show that mortality caused by parasites is positively correlated with immunocompetence measured by cell-mediated measures. Under life history theory, clutch size should increase with increased adult mortality and decrease with increased juvenile mortality. Using immunocompetence as a general assay of parasite-induced mortality, we tested these predictions by using data for 25 species. We found that clutch size increased strongly with adult immunocompetence. In contrast, clutch size decreased weakly with increased juvenile immunocompetence. But, immunocompetence of juveniles may be constrained by selection on adults, and, when we controlled for adult immunocompetence, clutch size decreased with juvenile immunocompetence. Thus, immunocompetence seems to reflect evolutionary differences in parasite virulence experienced by species, and differences in age-specific parasite virulence appears to exert opposite selection on clutch size evolution.
Additional Publication Details
Does clutch size evolve in response to parasites and immunocompetence?
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America