, Volume 145, Issue 2, pp 243–250 | Cite as

Responding to inflammatory challenges is less costly for a successful avian invader, the house sparrow (Passer domesticus), than its less-invasive congener

  • Kelly A. LeeEmail author
  • Lynn B. MartinII
  • Martin C. Wikelski


When introduced into new regions, invading organisms leave many native pathogens behind and also encounter evolutionarily novel disease threats. In the presence of predominantly novel pathogens that have not co-evolved to avoid inducing a strong host immune response, costly and potentially dangerous defenses such as the systemic inflammatory response could become more harmful than protective to the host. We therefore hypothesized that introduced populations exhibiting dampened inflammatory responses will tend to be more invasive. To provide initial data to assess this hypothesis, we measured metabolic, locomotor, and reproductive responses to inflammatory challenges in North American populations of the highly invasive house sparrow (Passer domesticus) and its less-invasive relative, the tree sparrow (Passer montanus). In the house sparrow, there was no effect of phytohemagglutinin (PHA) challenge on metabolic rate, and there were no detectable differences in locomotor activity between lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-injected birds and saline-injected controls. In contrast, tree sparrows injected with PHA had metabolic rates 20–25% lower than controls, and LPS injection resulted in a 35% drop in locomotor activity. In a common garden captive breeding experiment, there was no effect of killed-bacteria injections on reproduction in the house sparrow, while tree sparrows challenged with bacteria decreased egg production by 40% compared to saline-injected controls. These results provide some of the first data correlating variation in immune defenses with invasion success in introduced-vertebrate populations.


Invasion biology Immunology Defense strategies Inflammatory response Sickness behavior Passer montanus 



We thank Lisa Fitzgerald for help with bird care and data collection, Ross Adams for assistance in obtaining permits and locating netting sites, H. and B. Horn and M. Guimond for help in providing aviary space at the Stony Ford Center for Ecological Studies, and K. C. Klasing, P. Henri and L. Spinney for comments on the manuscript. This work was funded by the National Science Foundation (IRCEB) and the Pew Charitable Trusts award 2000-002558. The experiments reported here were approved by the Princeton University Institutional Animal Care Committee and were in accordance with NIH Guidelines for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kelly A. Lee
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lynn B. MartinII
    • 1
    • 2
  • Martin C. Wikelski
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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