1 Immunocompetence is the general capacity of an organism to mount an immune response against pathogens and parasites. We studied the relationship between the immunocompetence of a rodent host, Meriones crassus (Sundevall's Jird) and parasitism by the flea Xenopsylla ramesis. We hypothesized that flea parasitism affects physiological and immunological variables of the host, and that the host's level of immunocompetence affects fitness components in the flea parasite. We wanted to find out (a) the effect of flea parasitism on the haematocrit (Hct), leucocyte concentration (LC) and response to phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) of the host; (b) if and how the level of immunocompetence of the host is related to the fitness of fleas exploiting it; and (c) the relationship between the immunological and behavioural defences of the host. 2 We measured Hct and LC and response to PHA before and after 16 days of flea infestation in Sundevall's Jird and compared these variables between jirds subjected to flea parasitism and non-parasitized (control) animals. We evaluated egg production and hatching success in fleas exploiting hosts with different levels of immunocompetence. 3 The effect of flea parasitism on Hct and LC of rodents was manifested by an increase in among-host variation in the temporal changes of these variables. Response to PHA injection was significantly lower in parasitized than in control animals. 4 Flea egg production and hatching success were not related to either LC, prior to experimental treatments, or to the PHA response of rodents. However, both of these flea fitness traits were negatively correlated with changes in LC between the 1st and the 16th days of infestation. 5 At the end of the experiment, blood consumption of fleas was measured in jirds of both treatment groups. Fleas consumed significantly more blood when they fed on previously parasitized than on non-parasitized animals. Among fleas that fed on previously parasitized animals, blood consumption was positively correlated with the initial LC of the hosts, and negatively correlated with differences in LC between the 1st and the 16th days of flea infestation. We found no correlation between blood consumption in fleas that fed on control animals and either immunological variable of the hosts. 6 No trade-off was found between behavioural and immune defences of the rodent hosts.
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