Elevational Variation in Body-Temperature Response to Immune Challenge in a Lizard
Immunocompetence benefits animal fitness by combating pathogens, but also entails some costs. One of its main components is fever, which in ectotherms involves two main types of costs: energy expenditure and predation risk. Whenever those costs of fever outweigh its benefits, ectotherms are expected not to develop fever, or even to show hypothermia, reducing costs of thermoregulation and diverting the energy saved to other components of the immune system. Environmental thermal quality, and therefore the thermoregulation cost/benefit balance, varies geographically. Hence, we hypothesize that, in alpine habitats, immune-challenged ectotherms should show no thermal response, given that (1) hypothermia would be very costly, as the temporal window for reproduction is extremely small, and (2) fever would have a prohibitive cost, as heat acquisition is limited in such habitat. However, in temperate habitats, immune-challenged ectotherms might show a febrile response, due to lower cost/benefit balance as a consequence of a more suitable thermal environment. We tested this hypothesis in Psammodromus algirus lizards from Sierra Nevada (SE Spain), by testing body temperature preferred by alpine and non-alpine lizards, before and after activating their immune system with a typical innocuous pyrogen. Surprisingly, non-alpine lizards responded to immune challenge by decreasing preferential body temperature, presumably allowing them to save energy and reduce exposure to predators. On the contrary, as predicted, immune-challenged alpine lizards maintained their body-temperature preferences. These results match with increased costs of no, thermoregulation with elevation, due to the reduced window of time for reproduction in alpine environment.