, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 362-373
Date: 06 Oct 2004

Leukocyte Profiles in Wild House Finches with and without Mycoplasmal Conjunctivitis, a Recently Emerged Bacterial Disease

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Leukocyte profiles (relative numbers of white blood cell types) have been used by a growing number of ecological studies to assess immune function and stress in wild birds. House Finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) in eastern North America are susceptible to an eye disease caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma gallisepticum, providing the opportunity to examine whether leukocyte profiles are associated with infection status and other host characteristics. In this study, we compared blood smears from 297 wild House Finches with and without conjunctivitis to examine whether leukocyte profiles were associated with the presence and severity of mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. We also evaluated the influence of age, sex, and molt on leukocyte profiles in both diseased and nondiseased birds. Of 243 House Finches of known age and sex sampled, 30% showed clinical signs of mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. House Finches with conjunctivitis had significantly higher heterophil to lymphocyte (H/L) ratios and harbored greater numbers and proportions of heterophils and monocytes than nondiseased birds. Leukocyte profiles of noninfected birds did not differ significantly with respect to sex, but young birds had significantly greater numbers of lymphocytes and total white blood cells than adults. Molting birds had significantly more eosinophils than nonmolting birds. Finally, House Finches with the most severe outward signs of conjunctivitis showed the most dramatic leukocyte changes relative to noninfected individuals, and increasing H/L ratios and monocytes in diseased birds were paralleled in a subset of birds that were recaptured during the study period. These results are consistent with patterns observed in domestic poultry and suggest that understanding patterns of leukocyte differentials in this host-pathogen system could improve our understanding of innate immunity and infectious disease risk in other wild passerines.