Parasites infect hosts non-randomly as genotypes of hosts vary in susceptibility to the same genotypes of parasites, but this specificity may be modulated by environmental factors such as nutrition. Nutrition plays an important role for any physiological investment. As immune responses are costly, resource limitation should negatively affect immunity through trade-offs with other physiological requirements. Consequently, nutritional limitation should diminish immune capacity in general, but does it also dampen differences among hosts? We investigated the effect of short-term pollen deprivation on the immune responses of our model host Bombus terrestris when infected with the highly prevalent natural parasite Crithidia bombi. Bumblebees deprived of pollen, their protein source, show reduced immune responses to infection. They failed to upregulate a number of genes, including antimicrobial peptides, in response to infection. In particular, they also showed less specific immune expression patterns across individuals and colonies. These findings provide evidence for how immune responses on the individual-level vary with important elements of the environment and illustrate how nutrition can functionally alter not only general resistance, but also alter the pattern of specific host-parasite interactions.
Keywords: Bombus terrestris; Crithidia bombi; ecological immunology; gene expression; host–parasite interactions; nutrition.
© 2014 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.