Insect immune systems are dynamic. Their response to infection is altered by both internal and external conditions (Stoks et al., 2006; Adamo, 2008a, 2008b). This plasticity exists because of a complex web of interconnections between the immune system and other physiological systems (e.g. Adamo et al., 2008; Schmidt, 2008). For example, activities such as flight-or-fight (i.e. the acute stress response), reproduction, and development all lead to co-ordinated changes in multiple physiological systems (Chapman, 1998; Nation, 2002). These shifts in physiological state result in concomitant changes in immune function (acute stress, Adamo and Parsons, 2006; reproduction, see Lawncizak et al., 2007; development, e.g. Meylaers et al, 2007).
Changes in physiological state can alter immune-system function directly via neural/ neuroendocrine/immune connections (Adamo, 2008a, 2008b). Such direct effects may adapt the immune system to changing resource availability and/or changing immunological needs. Changes in physiological state can also alter immune system function indirectly by reducing the resources needed for an immune response (e.g. Adamo et al, 2008).
In this chapter, I discuss how and why short-term changes in physiological state (i.e. the acute stress response) alter immune responsiveness in insects. I also explore the ramifications of these effects for ecological immunologists.
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