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Eco-immunology in the cold: the role of immunity in shaping the overwintering survival of ectotherms [COMMENTARY]

Laura V. Ferguson, Raine Kortet, and Brent J. Sinclair

The effect of temperature on physiology mediates many of the challenges that ectotherms face under climate change. Ectotherm immunity is thermally sensitive and, as such, environmental change is likely to have complex effects on survival, disease resistance and transmission. The effects of temperature on immunity will be particularly profound in winter because cold and overwintering are important triggers and regulators of ectotherm immune activity. Low temperatures can both suppress and activate immune responses independent of parasites, which suggests that temperature not only affects the rate of immune responses but also provides information that allows overwintering ectotherms to balance investment in immunity and other physiological processes that underlie winter survival. Changing winter temperatures are now shifting ectotherm immunity, as well as the demand for energy conservation and protection against parasites. Whether an ectotherm can survive the winter will thus depend on whether new immune phenotypes will shift to match the conditions of the new environment, or leave ectotherms vulnerable to infection or energy depletion. Here, we synthesise patterns of overwintering immunity in ectotherms and examine how new winter conditions might affect ectotherm immunity. We then explore whether it is possible to predict the effects of changing winter conditions on ectotherm vulnerability to the direct and indirect effects of parasites.

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