Eco-immunology of carnivores with low immunogenetic diversity

In this project we study the immune phenotype as well as the parasites and pathogens of two feline species, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus). 

Project details
Duration: since 01/2011
Third-party funded: yes
Involved Department(s): Dept Wildlife Diseases, Dept Evolutionary Ecology, Dept Evolutionary GeneticsDept Reproduction Biology
Leibniz-IZW Project Leader(s): Gábor Czirják (Dept Wildlife Diseases), Bettina Wachter (Dept Evolutionary Ecology)
Leibniz-IZW Project Team: Maria Serocki (Dept Evolutionary Ecology / Dept Wildlife Diseases), Alexandre Courtiol (Dept Evolutionary Genetics), Katarina Jewgenow (Dept Reproduction Biology), Heribert Hofer (Director)
Consortium Partner(s): Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut – Federal Research Institute for Animal Health (FLI), Freie Universität Berlin
Current Funding Organisation: German Science Foundation (DFG)
Research Foci:
Understanding traits and evolutionary adaptations
Understanding wildlife health and disturbed homeostasis
Understanding the environmental context
Developing theories, methods, and tools

Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is a highly polymorphic multigene family and it is part of the adaptive immune response. Variability in the MHC is thought to be crucial for pathogen resistance; however, its influence on population viability is debated. Considering the complexity of the immune system and inspiring from life history theory, it is possible that a strong response in other components of the immune system evolves when there is little variation in the MHC.

In this project we study the immune phenotype as well as the parasites and pathogens of two feline species, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus). Both species have low MHC diversity; however, they differ in the time spam since the last demographic bottleneck. Since free-ranging cheetahs show no clinical or pathological evidence for disease despite being infected and/or exposed to various pathogens and parasites, we hypothesize that they compensate with a strong innate immunity for the low variation at the MHC. This would not be the case of the Iberian lynx, since the species is susceptible to various pathogens and its demographic bottleneck is quite recent. Within the project, we also measure the immunity and oxidative stress of closely related species with high MHC diversity, such as the leopard (Panthera pardus) (with Dept. Evolutionary Genetics) and the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) (with Dept. Reproduction Biology) and other carnivores. Our study highlights the importance of an evolutionary approach when studying the health status of species with conservation interest.

Selected Publications

Seltmann A, Schares G, Aschenborn OHK, Heinrich SK, Thalwitzer S, Wachter B*, Czirják GÁ* (2020): Species-specific differences in Toxoplasma gondiiNeospora caninum and Besnoitia besnoiti seroprevalence in Namibian wildlife. PARASIT VECTORS 13:7. (*These authors contributed equally).

Soilemetzidou S, de Bruin E, Franz M, Aschenborn OHK, Rimmelzwaan GF, van Beek R, Koopmans M, Greenwood AD*, Czirják GÁ* (2020) Diet may drive influenza A virus exposure in African mammals. J INFECT DIS 221, 175-182. doi:10.1093/infdis/jiz032. (*These authors contributed equally).

Seltmann A, Webster F, Martins Ferreira SC, Czirják GÁ*, Wachter B* (2019): Age-specific gastrointestinal parasite shedding in free-ranging cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) on Namibian farmland. PARASITOL RES 118, 851-859. doi:10.1007/s00436-018-6190-2. (*These authors contributed equally).

Costantini D, Czirják GÁ, Melzheimer J, Menges V, Wachter B (2019): Sex and species differences of stress markers in sympatric cheetahs and leopards in Namibia. COMP BIOCHEM PHYSIOL A MOL INTEGR PHYSIOL 227, 8-13. doi:10.1016/j.cbpa.2018.09.002.

Heinrich SK, Hofer H, Courtiol A, Melzheimer J, Dehnhard M, Czirják GÁ*, Wachter B* (2017): Cheetahs have a stronger constitutive innate immunity than leopards. SCI REP 7, 44837. doi:10.1038/srep44837. (*These authors contributed equally).

Costantini D, Wachter B, Melzheimer J, Czirják GÁ (2017): Socioecological and environmental predictors of physiological stress markers in a threatened feline species. CONS PHYSIOL 5, cox069. doi:10.1093/conphys/cox069.

Heinrich SK, Wachter B, Aschenborn OH, Thalwitzer S, Melzheimer J, Hofer H, Czirják GÁ (2016): Feliform carnivores have a distinguished constitutive innate immune response. BIOL OPEN 15, 550-555. doi:10.1242/bio.014902.