The interleukin-17 (IL-17) family of cytokines phylogenetically predates the evolution of T cells in jawed vertebrates, suggesting that the ontogeny of the Th17 cell lineage must have arisen to confer an evolutionary advantage to the host over innate sources of IL-17. Utilizing a model of mucosal immunization with the encapsulated bacteria Klebsiella pneumoniae, we found that B cells, which largely recognized polysaccharide capsular antigens, afforded protection to only the vaccine strain. In contrast, memory Th17 cells proliferated in response to conserved outer membrane proteins and conferred protection against several serotypes of K. pneumoniae, including the recently described multidrug resistant New Dehli metallolactamase strain. Notably, this heterologous, clade-specific protection was antibody independent, demonstrating the Th17 cell lineage confers a host advantage by providing heterologous mucosal immunity independent of serotype-specific antibody. © 2011 Elsevier Inc.