, Volume 145, Issue 2, pp 326–333 | Cite as

Cross-fostering reveals an effect of spleen size and nest temperatures on immune responses in nestling European starlings

  • Daniel R. Ardia
Behavioral ecology


Immunocompetence may be a good measure of offspring quality, however, factors affecting variation in immune responses are not clear. Research suggests that immune function can vary due to differences in genetics, development conditions and individual quality. Here, I examined factors affecting variation in immune response among nestling European starlings through a split-nest cross-fostering brood manipulation that included two important covariates: spleen size and nest temperatures. Immunocompetence was assessed via a cell-mediated immune response to phytohaemagglutinin (PHA). This paper provides the first direct evidence that individuals with large spleens also mount strong immune responses. Exposure to PHA did not cause splenomegaly, as there was no difference in spleen size between control birds and those injected with PHA. Offspring immune function was affected by common origin and by rearing environment, though rearing environment appeared to exert its influence only through nest temperatures. A comparison of the immune performance of siblings reared in their home nest versus those reared in other nests revealed a strong effect of maternal quality. As the difference in natal clutch size increased, the magnitude of the difference in immune performance between home-reared nestlings versus out-reared nestlings increased. Overall, nestling immune function appears to be determined by the combination of genetic, maternal and environmental effects.


Cell-mediated immune function Cross-fostering Offspring quality Rearing environment Sturnus vulgaris 



I am grateful to John and Meg Flux for letting me work at the Belmont field site and for their generosity of time and advice, and Nathaniel Taylor for assistance under difficult field conditions. Elizabeth Atkinson and Fabio provided additional support. This manuscript was improved through discussions with Andre Dhondt, David Winkler, Wesley Hochachka, Karel Schat, Matt Wasson, Dana Hawley, Becca Safran and Mark Hauber. Victor Apanius, Charles Brown and Carol Vleck made comments that substantively improved this manuscript. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provided financial support. This work was carried out under an Animal Care Protocol approved by the Cornell Center for Research Animal Resources.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Program in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Morrill Science CenterUniversity of MassachusettsAmherstUSA

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