Water as a physiological currency: hydration state impacts immune function, metabolic substrates, and reproductive investment
Environmental changes are occurring at an unprecedented rate, and these changes will undoubtedly lead to alterations in resource availability for many organisms. To effectively predict the implications of such changes, it is critical to better understand how organisms have adapted to coping with seasonally limited resources. The vast majority of previous work has focused on energy balance as the driver of changes in organismal physiology. While energy is clearly a vital currency, other resources can also be limited and impact physiological functions. Water is essential for life as it is the main constituent of cells, tissues, and organs. Yet, water has received little consideration for its role as a currency that impacts physiological functions. Given the importance of water to most major physiological systems, I investigated how water limitations interact with immune function, metabolism, and reproductive investment, an almost entirely unexplored area. Using multiple species and life stages, I demonstrated that dehydrated animals typically have enhanced innate immunity, regardless of whether the dehydration is a result of seasonal water constraints, water deprivation in the lab, or high physiological demand for water. My work contributed greatly to the understanding of immune function dynamics and lays a foundation for the study of hydration immunology as a component of the burgeoning field of ecoimmunology. While a large portion of my dissertation focused on the interaction between water balance and immune function, there are many other physiological processes that may be impacted by water restrictions. Accordingly, I recently expanded the understanding of how reproductive females can alter metabolic substrates to reallocate internal water during times of water scarcity, an important development in our knowledge of reproductive investments. Overall, by thoroughly evaluating implications and responses to water limitations, my dissertation, when combined previous acquired knowledge on food limitation, will enable scientists to better predict the impacts of future climate change, where, in many regions, rainfall events are forecasted to be less reliable, resulting in more frequent drought.