Summary: Multiple generations of hosts are often exposed to the same pathogens, favouring the evolution of trans-generational defences. Because females have more opportunities to transfer protective molecules to offspring, many studies have focused on maternally derived protection. However, males of many species can transfer compounds along with sperm, including chemicals that could provide protection. Here, we assess maternally and paternally derived protection in a monarch butterfly-protozoan parasite system where parasite resistance is heavily influenced by secondary plant chemicals, known as cardenolides, present in the larval diet of milkweed plants. We reared monarch butterflies on medicinal and non-medicinal milkweed species and then measured resistance of their offspring to infection. We also measured cardenolide content in adult monarchs reared on the two species, and in the eggs that they produced. We found that offspring were more resistant to infection when their fathers were reared on medicinal milkweed, while maternal diet had less of an effect. We also found that eggs contained the highest levels of cardenolides when both parents were reared on the medicinal species. Moreover, females reared on non-medicinal milkweed produced eggs with significantly higher levels of cardenolides if they mated with males reared on the medicinal milkweed species. However, we found an equivocal relationship between the cardenolides present in eggs and parasite resistance in the offspring. Our results demonstrate that males reared on medicinal plants can transfer protection to their offspring, but the exact mechanism remains unresolved. This suggests that paternal protection from parasitism might be important, particularly when there are environmental sources of parasite resistance and when males transfer spermatophores during mating.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology