Compensating for delayed hatching reduces offspring immune response and increases life-history costs

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Organisms are exposed to multiple sources of stress in nature. When confronted with a stressful period affecting growth and development, compensatory responses allow the restoration of individual fitness, providing an important buffering mechanism against climatic and other environmental variability. However, tradeoffs between increased growth/development and other physiological traits are predicted to prevent these high growth and development rates from becoming constitutive. Here, we investigated how compensatory responses in growth and development affect immune responses. By using low temperature to stop embryonic development, we exposed moor frog Rana arvalis tadpoles to two levels of time-constraints: non-delayed hatching and 12-day delayed hatching. In a common garden experiment, we recorded larval growth and development, as well as their immune response, measured as the inflammatory reaction after the injection of phytohaemagglutinin (PHA). Tadpoles originating from delayed hatching treatments had a lower immune response to PHA challenge than those from the non-delayed hatching treatment. In general, tadpoles from the delayed hatching treatment reached metamorphosis faster and at a smaller size than control tadpoles. However, immune-challenged tadpoles were not able to accelerate their development in response to delayed hatching. Our results indicate that 1) the innate immune response can be reduced in organisms undergoing compensatory developmental responses in growth and development and 2) compensatory capacity can be reduced when organisms are immunologically challenged. These dual findings reveal the complexity of handling multiple stressors and highlight the importance of examining the costs and limits of mounting an immune response in the context of increasing phenological instability ascribed to climate change.

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