Breeding time, health and immune response in the chinstrap penguin Pygoscelis antarctica
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Health status and immunocompetence have been proposed as important factors affecting individual variation in the attainment of breeding condition in birds. We studied individual variation in serological variables indicating health status (blood sedimentation rate, haematocrit, `buffy coat' layer, proportions of different types of leucocytes) in two groups of breeding chinstrap penguins Pygoscelis antarctica with breeding dates 9 days apart. We sampled these individuals shortly after hatching of their young and at the end of the chick-raising period. A group of failed breeders was also sampled. Birds of both sexes were included. We also measured the T-cell-mediated immune response as indicated by an in vivo hypersensitivity response to an intradermal injection of a mitogen (phytohaemagglutinin) in early and late breeders. Sex had no significant effect on most variables. Late breeders had poorer health (more leucocytes, especially heterophils and lymphocytes) and a lower T-cell-mediated immune response than early breeders. Failed breeders were more similar to late than to early breeders. Early breeders suffered a decline in health status throughout the chick-raising period. The impact of pathogens on variation in life history traits in avian populations may be important even in extreme Antarctic environments.
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