Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 64, Issue 2, pp 183–191 | Cite as

Growth rate and hatching date in ostrich chicks reflect humoral but not cell-mediated immune function

  • Maud BonatoEmail author
  • Matthew R. Evans
  • Dennis Hasselquist
  • Schalk W. P. Cloete
  • Michael I. Cherry
Original Paper


A tradeoff between immune response and life history traits, in particular growth rate, has been documented in various bird species. Ostriches are fast-growing birds and a typical feature of cohorts is that offspring often differ greatly in size. We investigated the relationship between hatching date and growth rate of chicks and both cell-mediated (measured using a phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) injection) and humoral immune responses in ostrich chicks maintained on a research farm. Chicks with higher growth rates had intermediate responses to both diphtheria and tetanus toxoids. By contrast, no relation between growth rates and responses to PHA injection were found. We conclude that chick growth rate variation may be explained beyond a certain threshold by a tradeoff between the humoral response and growth. Both responses to PHA injection and humoral responses in chicks were found to decrease with chick hatching date. Within the context of ostrich farming, these results could partially explain size variations observed in cohorts of chicks, as well as high mortality rates during their first 3 months of age.


Immune response Growth rate Seasonal effect Stabilising selection Struthio camelus 



We gratefully thank the National Research Foundation of South Africa for financial support, everybody at the Oudtshoorn Experimental farm, especially Stefan Engelbrecht, Zanell Brand and Basie Pfister for assistance in taking care of the birds and data collection. DH was supported by grants from the Swedish Research Council (VR), the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (FORMAS) and the Carl Trygger Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maud Bonato
    • 1
    Email author
  • Matthew R. Evans
    • 2
  • Dennis Hasselquist
    • 3
  • Schalk W. P. Cloete
    • 4
    • 5
  • Michael I. Cherry
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Botany and ZoologyUniversity of StellenboschMatielandSouth Africa
  2. 2.Centre for Ecology and Conservation, School of BiosciencesUniversity of ExeterPenrynUK
  3. 3.Department of Animal EcologyLundSweden
  4. 4.Institute for Animal Production: ElsenburgElsenburgSouth Africa
  5. 5.Department of Animal SciencesUniversity of StellenboschMatielandSouth Africa

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