Insights from parasite-specific serological tools in eco-immunology.


Eco-immunology seeks evolutionary explanations for the tremendous variation in immune defense observed in nature. Assays to quantify immune phenotypes often are crucial to this endeavor. To this end, we suggest that more use could (and arguably should) be made of the veterinary and clinical serological toolbox. For example, measuring the magnitude and half-life of parasite-specific antibodies across a range of host taxa may provide new ways of testing theories in eco-immunology. Here, we suggest that antibody assays developed in veterinary and clinical immunology and epidemiology provide excellent tools--or at least excellent starting points for development of tools--for tests of such hypotheses. We review how such assays work and how they may be optimized for new questions and new systems in eco-immunology. We provide examples of the application of such tools to eco-immunological studies of seabirds and mammals, and suggest a decision-tree to aid development of assays. We expect that addition of such tools to the eco-immunological toolbox will promote progress in the field and help elucidate how immune systems function and why they vary in nature.

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