, Volume 164, Issue 2, pp 339–347 | Cite as

Variation in inflammation as a correlate of range expansion in Kenyan house sparrows

  • Lynn B. MartinEmail author
  • Jennifer L. Alam
  • Titus Imboma
  • Andrea L. Liebl
Physiological ecology - Original Paper


Many introduced animals harbor fewer parasites than native ones. This “enemy release” can select for individuals that bias resources away from parasite resistance traits, including immune functions, and towards traits that enhance success in new areas. One vertebrate example that supports this hypothesis involves house sparrows (Passer domesticus) and Eurasian tree sparrows (Passer montanus) introduced to St. Louis, MO, USA, over 150 years ago. Since ca. 1850, house sparrows have colonized most of North America whereas tree sparrows have expanded little from the area of introduction. The more successful house sparrows now exhibit weaker inflammatory responses than the less successful tree sparrows, which supports the possibility that diminished investments in immune defense may have been conducive to the initial colonization by the more successful species. The goal of the present study was to determine whether damped inflammation generally facilitates invasion by comparing inflammatory markers between house sparrows invading Kenya and a native congener. House sparrows arrived in Mombasa, Kenya, about 50 years ago whereas rufous sparrows (Passer ruficinctus) are native but ecologically similar. We predicted that if inflammation mediated invasion success, Kenyan house sparrows would mount weaker inflammatory responses than the native species. Complete Freund’s adjuvant (CFA), a strong inflammatory stimulus, increased body mass in house sparrows, a result unprecedented in any other vertebrate. Haptoglobin (Hp), a multi-functional acute phase protein, was elevated by CFA in both species but rufous sparrows maintained more Hp than house sparrows irrespective of treatment. Lysozyme, a broadly effective antimicrobial enzyme, was reduced by CFA in both species, but not differentially so. Corticosterone was unaffected by CFA in either species, but elevated in both relative to free-living individuals.


Acute phase response Immunocompetence Introduced species Sickness behavior 



We thank Courtney Coon, Josh Kuhlman, and Kelly Lee for constructive criticism of the manuscript and help with analysis, and the National Museum of Kenya and the University of South Florida (USF) for infrastructural support. Funding comes from NSF IOS-0920475, USF College of Arts and Sciences, a USF New Researcher grant, and a USF Undergraduate Research award (to J. L. A.). All experiments comply with the current laws of the country in which the experiments were performed.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lynn B. Martin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jennifer L. Alam
    • 1
  • Titus Imboma
    • 2
  • Andrea L. Liebl
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA
  2. 2.Department of OrnithologyNational Museum of KenyaNairobiKenya

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