Simultaneously defending against predators, stymieing competitors, and generating immune responses can impose conflicting demands for host species caught in the entanglement of a food web. Host immunity is not only shaped by direct interactions among species, but also many indirect cascading effects. By reducing competition, predators in particular can affect resource acquisition necessary for hosts to mount energetically costly immune responses. However, identifying the links between predators and host immune responses determined by resource acquisition is a complex affair, because predators can (1) reduce host density and thus competition among hosts, (2) exert non-consumptive trait-mediated effects on host resource acquisition behavior, and (3) generate natural selection on host resource acquisition behavior. To examine the relative contributions of these potential predator driven density- and trait-mediated effects on a key aspect of immune function (total phenoloxidase activity, total PO), we conducted mesocosm and field experiments with larval damselflies (Enallagma signatum) and their dominant fish predator (Lepomis macrochirus). Although we expected to observe declines in total PO activity with increases in damselfly density, we found no relationship between density and total PO activity. We also found no support for the prediction that total PO activity would vary as a result of either non-consumptive trait-mediated effects or selection on damselfly foraging activity underlying resource acquisition. Despite the lack of trait- or density-mediated effects, we did find that total PO activity increased with damselfly prey density among lakes, implying resource limitation for this aspect of immune function. These unexpected results point to the need to better understand the ecological conditions whereby predators and competitors constrain immune functions necessary for species to defend themselves in complex food webs.
- Direct effects
- Immune function
- Trait-mediated effects
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics