Animal trait variation at the within-individual level: erythrocyte size variation and malaria infection in a tropical lizard


High levels of within-individual variation (WIV) in reiterative components in plants such as leaves, flowers, and fruits have been shown to increase individual fitness by multiple mechanisms including mediating interactions with natural enemies. This relationship between WIV and fitness has been studied almost exclusively in plant systems. While animals do not exhibit conspicuous reiterative components, they have traits that can vary at the individual level such as erythrocyte size. It is currently unknown if WIV in animals can influence individual fitness by mediating the outcome of interactions with natural enemies as it has been shown in plants. To address this issue, we tested for a relationship between WIV in erythrocyte size, hemoparasite infection status, and body condition (a proxy for fitness) in a Caribbean anole lizard. We quantified the coefficient of variation of adult erythrocytes size in $n = 95$ infected and $n = 107$ non-infected lizards. We found higher degrees of erythrocyte size variation in infected lizards than in non-infected individuals. However, we found no significant relationship between infection status or erythrocyte size variation, and lizard body condition. These results suggest that higher WIV in erythrocyte size in infected lizards is not necessarily adaptive but likely a consequence of the host response to infection. Many hemoparasites destroy their host cells as part of their life cycle. To compensate, the host lizard may respond by increasing production of erythrocytes resulting in higher WIV. Our results emphasize the need to better understand the role of within-animal variation as a neglected driver or consequence of ecological and evolutionary interactions.

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Virnaliz Cruz-Hernandez
Virnaliz Cruz-Hernandez
PhD Student

My research interests include disease ecology, computational ecology, and data science.

Miguel Acevedo
Miguel Acevedo
Assistant Professor of Quantitative Wildlife Population Ecology

My research interests include global change, lizard malaria, and quantitative applications for conservation planning.