, Volume 136, Issue 1, pp 148-154
Date: 15 Apr 2003

Stress, immunocompetence and leukocyte profiles of pied flycatchers in relation to brood size manipulation

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Abstract

The two main trade-offs considered determining reproductive patterns in iteroparous organisms are the one between current and future reproduction, and the one between the number and quality of offspring. Recently, it has been suggested that these trade-offs may be mediated by stress-induced reduction in immunocompetence. To test the hypothesis that stress reduces immune function, we investigated the effects of brood size manipulation on stress hormone levels, leukocyte profiles and immune responses against challenge with novel antigens in nestling and parent male pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca). In male parents, heterophil (H) and lymphocyte (L) numbers, as well as H/L ratio increased with experimentally enlarged brood size, and corticosterone levels tended to do so, indicating that high parental work load altered their stress level and physiological state. Despite this, we found no effects on humoral immune responsiveness, measured as antibody production against diphtheria-tetanus vaccine. In nestlings, heterophil numbers and H/L ratio increased in enlarged broods, whereas T-cell-mediated immune responsiveness, measured against phytohemagglutinin (PHA), decreased in enlarged broods. The results support the view that growth-stress-induced immunosuppression may be an important physiological pathway mediating the trade-off between the number and viability of offspring. The difference in the observed immune-related responses between nestlings and males may be because we measured different aspects of the immune system (cellular vs humoral). However, it may also be a result of males lowering their own costs by feeding less, (and their mate possibly compensate by feeding more), whereas nestlings cannot escape the costs of increased intra-brood competition.