What makes a host profitable? Parasites balance host nutritive resources against immunity

Pierre Bize, Caroline Jeanneret, Aurelie Klopfenstein, Alexandre Roulin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Citations (Scopus)


Numerous host qualities can modulate parasite fitness, and among these, host nutritive resources and immunity are of prime importance. Indeed, parasite fitness increases with the amount of nutritive resources extracted from the host body and decreases with host immune response. To maximize fitness, parasites have therefore to balance these two host components. Yet, because host nutritive resources and immunity both increase with host body condition, it is unclear whether parasites perform better on hosts in prime, intermediate, or poor condition. We investigated blood meal size and survival of the ectoparasitic louse fly Crataerina melbae in relation to body condition and cutaneous immune response of their Alpine swift (Apus melba) nestling hosts. Louse flies took a smaller blood meal and lived a shorter period of time when feeding on nestlings that were experimentally food deprived or had their cutaneous immune response boosted with methionine. Consistent with these results, louse fly survival was the highest when feeding on nonexperimental nestlings in intermediate body condition. Our findings emphasize that although hosts in poor condition had a reduced immunocompetence, parasites may have avoided them because individuals in poor condition did not provide adequate resources. These findings highlight the fact that giving host immunocompetence primary consideration can result in a biased appraisal of host-parasite interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-118
Number of pages12
JournalThe American Naturalist
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2008


  • host‐parasite interaction
  • immunocompetence
  • nutrition
  • parasite fitness
  • phytohemagglutinin (PHA) skin test


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