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Does investment into “expensive” tissue compromise anti-parasitic defence? Testes size, brain size and parasite diversity in rodent hosts


Species richness of parasite assemblages varies among host species. Earlier studies that searched for host-related determinants of parasite diversity mainly considered host traits that affect the probability of host encounter with parasites, whereas host traits related to defensibility against parasites have rarely been investigated. From the latter perspective, evolutionary investment in “expensive” tissue or organs (like testes or brain) may trade off against energetically costly anti-parasitic defences. If so, richer parasite assemblages are expected in hosts with larger testes and brains. We studied the relationships between testes and brain size and diversity of parasites (fleas, gamasid mites and helminths) in 55 rodent species using a comparative approach and application of two methods, namely the method of independent contrasts and generalized least-squares (GLS) analysis. Both phylogenetically correct methods produced similar results for flea and helminth species richness. Testes size positively correlated with flea and helminth species richness but not gamasid mite species richness. No correlation between brain size and species richness of any parasite group was found by the method of independent contrasts. However, GLS analysis indicated negative correlation between brain size and mite species richness. Our results cast doubt on the validity of the expensive tissue hypothesis, but suggest instead that larger testes are associated with higher parasite diversity via their effect on mobility and/or testosterone-mediated immunosuppression.

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We thank Allan Degen for helpful comments on the earlier version of the manuscript. This study was partly supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 27/08 to B. R. K.). This is publication no. 686 of the Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology.

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Correspondence to Boris R. Krasnov.

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Communicated by Klaus Fischer.

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Bordes, F., Morand, S. & Krasnov, B.R. Does investment into “expensive” tissue compromise anti-parasitic defence? Testes size, brain size and parasite diversity in rodent hosts. Oecologia 165, 7–16 (2011).

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  • Expensive tissue hypothesis
  • Brain
  • Parasites
  • Rodents
  • Species richness