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Could care giving have altered the evolution of human immune strategies?

Life history theory indicates that individuals/species with a slow pace of life invest more in acquired than innate immunity. Factors that decrease the pace of life and predict greater investment in acquired immunity include increased nutritional resources, increased pathogen exposure and decreased risk of extrinsic mortality. Common care behaviors given to sick individuals produce exactly these effects: provisioning increases nutritional resources; hygiene assistance increases disease exposure of carers; and protection can reduce the risk of extrinsic mortality to sick individuals. This study, therefore, investigated under what conditions care giving behaviors might impact immune strategy and pace of life. The study employed an agent-based model approach that simulated populations with varying levels of care giving, disease mortality, disease transmissibility, and extrinsic mortality, enabling measurements of how the immune strategy and age structure of the populations changed over evolutionary time. We used multiple regressions to examine the effects of these variables on immune strategy and the age structure of the population. The findings supported our predictions that care was selected for an acquired immunity. However, the pace of life did not slow as expected. Instead, the population shifted to a faster, but also more cost-intensive reproductive strategy in which care improved child survival by subsidizing the development of acquired immune responses.

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