, Volume 137, Issue 4, pp 621-626
Date: 12 Sep 2003

Climate, body condition and spleen size in birds

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Climatic conditions may impact on the body condition of animals and thereby affect their survival prospects. However, climate may also impact directly on the survival prospects of animals by affecting the size of immune defence organs that are used for defence against parasites. We used a large long-term database on body condition and size of the spleen in birds to test for immediate and delayed relationships between climatic conditions as indexed by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and body condition and spleen mass, respectively. Across 14 species of birds, spleen mass was significantly positively correlated with the NAO index, while the delayed effect of NAO on spleen mass was not significant. Spleen mass was positively related to body condition, but body condition did not depend significantly on NAO or delayed NAO effects. Bird species with a strong positive effect of NAO on spleen mass tended to have small spleens for their body size, while species with a strong negative effect of NAO on spleen mass tended to have relatively large spleens. Since bird species with relatively large spleen have been shown to suffer more from the negative effects of parasites, we can infer that the effects of climate as indexed by NAO on the size of the spleen depends on the importance of parasite-mediated natural selection.

Due to an error in the citation line, this revised PDF (published in December 2003) deviates from the printed version, and is the correct and authoritative version of the paper.