Early exposure to ultraviolet-B radiation decreases immune function later in life

Amphibians have declined dramatically worldwide. Many of these declines are occurring in areas where no obvious anthropogenic stressors are present. It is proposed that in these areas, environmental factors such as elevated solar ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation could be responsible.

These data demonstrate that early UV-B exposure can have carry-over effects on later life-history traits even if the applied stressor has no immediately discernible effect.

Ultraviolet-B levels have increased in many parts of the world as a consequence of the anthropogenic destruction of the ozone layer.

Amphibian tadpoles are particularly sensitive to the damaging effects of UV-B radiation, with exposure disrupting growth and fitness in many species.

Given that UV-B can disrupt immune function in other animals, we tested the hypothesis that early UV-B exposure suppresses the immune responses of amphibian tadpoles and subsequent juvenile frogs.

We exposed Limnodynastes peronii tadpoles to sublethal levels of UV-B radiation for 6 weeks after hatching, then examined indices of immune function in both the tadpoles and the subsequent metamorphs.

There was no significant effect of UV-B on tadpole leucocyte counts or on their response to an acute antigen (phytohaemagglutinin) challenge. However, early UV-B exposure resulted in a significant reduction in both metamorph leucocyte abundance and their response to an acute phytohaemagglutinin challenge.

These data demonstrate that early UV-B exposure can have carry-over effects on later life-history traits even if the applied stressor has no immediately discernible effect.

These findings have important implications for our understanding of the effects of UV-B exposure on amphibian health and susceptibility to diseases such as chytridiomycosis.

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