The immunocompetence handicap hypothesis in two sexually dimorphic pinniped species--is there a sex difference in immunity during early development?

Developmental and Comparative Immunology
Ailsa J HallP J H Reijnders


The 'immunocompetence handicap hypothesis' predicts that highly sexually dimorphic and polygynous species will exhibit sex differences in immunity. We tested this hypothesis in southern elephant and grey seals during their early development by measuring the following parameters: leucocyte counts, serum IgG levels, erythrocyte sedimentation rate and haematocrit. We failed to find any differences due to sex as assessed by the parameters investigated. Animals were sampled longitudinally during their development and there were significant age effects from birth to weaning in both species. Total and differential leucocyte counts and erythrocyte sedimentation rates increased just prior to weaning then decreased. Haematocrits declined whilst total circulating immunoglobulin G concentrations increased. Body temperatures remained constant throughout the postnatal period. Differences between the species were seen in total leucocyte counts and in polymorphonuclear cells and eosinophils. Southern elephant seals had higher concentrations than grey seals and total leucocyte counts in the former were among the highest reported for mammals.


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