Ecoimmune reallocation in a native lizard in response to the presence of invasive, venomous fire ants in their shared environment

Catherine Tylan, Maria Horvat-Gordon, Paul A. Bartell, Tracy Langkilde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Exposure to stressors over prolonged periods can have fitness-relevant consequences, including suppression of immune function. We tested for effects of presence of an invasive species threat on a broad panel of immune functions of a coexisting lizard. Eastern fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus) have been exposed to invasive fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) for over 80 years. Fire ants sting and envenomate lizards, causing physiological stress, but we do not have a comprehensive understanding of the broad immune consequences of lizard exposure to fire ant presence. We conducted a suite of immune measures on fence lizards caught from areas with long histories of fire ant invasion and lizards from areas not yet invaded by fire ants. The effect of fire ant presence on immunity varied depending on the immune component measured: within fire ant invaded areas, some portions of immunity were suppressed (lymphocytic cell-mediated immunity, complement), some were unaffected (phagocytic respiratory burst, natural antibodies), and some were enhanced (anti-fire ant immunoglobulin M, basophils) compared to within uninvaded areas. Rather than fire ants being broadly immunosuppressing, as generally assumed, the immune response appears to be tailored to this specific stressor: the immune measures that were enhanced are important to the lizards' ability to handle envenomation, whereas those that were unaffected or suppressed are less critical to surviving fire ant encounters. Several immune measures were suppressed in reproductive females when actively producing follicles, which may make them more susceptible to immunosuppressive costs of stressors such as interactions with fire ants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)792-804
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological and Integrative Physiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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