Estimating heritable genetic contributions to innate immune and endocrine phenotypic correlations: A need to explore repeatability

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Abstract

The immune system plays an important role in enhancing an individual's ability to survive in a world inhabited by pathogens and parasites. The innate immune system is regulated by processes encoded in an individual's genome, providing an avenue for selection to act on this system, as well as the phenotypic relationships generated between this system and other traits of interest. While relationships between innate immunity and endocrine traits (e.g. testosterone) have been reported often in the literature, these relationships are complex and may differ under varying environmental conditions. To better understand the relative contribution of innate immunity (or an endocrine or behavioral trait) to a phenotypic correlation with another trait, an estimation of the underlying heritable genetic variation of the trait of interest is needed. An upper level estimate of the heritability of such traits can be obtained from calculating its repeatability. We conducted a literature review to determine how often repeated samples of measures of innate immune function were conducted and repeatability estimates obtained. This review revealed a very limited number of repeatability estimates, with a large range (0.0–0.9); estimates were exclusively from livestock that have undergone strong artificial selection. This observation of the present literature suggests more work is needed in non-domesticated and free-living animals to begin to understand the underlying genetic contribution of innate immune function to phenotypic correlations of interest (e.g. testosterone and immunity) to behavioral ecologists, evolutionary physiologists and ecoimmunologists.

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