As a textbook case for the importance of genetics in conservation, absence of genetic variability at the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is thought to endanger species viability, since it is considered crucial for pathogen resistance. An alternative view of the immune system inspired by life history theory posits that a strong response should evolve in other components of the immune system if there is little variation in the MHC. In contrast to the leopard (Panthera pardus), the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) has a relatively low genetic variability at the MHC, yet free-ranging cheetahs are healthy. By comparing the functional competence of the humoral immune system of both species in sympatric populations in Namibia, we demonstrate that cheetahs have a higher constitutive innate but lower induced innate and adaptive immunity than leopards. We conclude (1) immunocompetence of cheetahs is higher than previously thought; (2) studying both innate and adaptive components of immune systems will enrich conservation science.
Heinrich, S. K., Hofer, H., Courtiol, A., Melzheimer, J., Dehnhard, M., Czirják, G., & Wachter, B. (2017). Cheetahs have a stronger constitutive innate immunity than leopards. Scientific Reports, 7. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep44837