Immune function and survival of great tit nestlings in relation to growth conditions
Life history theory predicts a trade-off between number and quality of offspring. Reduced quality with increasing brood size may arise from a decrease in body condition or in immunocompetence that would be important in fighting off virulent parasites by immunologically naive offspring. We tested the effect of rearing conditions on immune function of nestling great tits (Parus major) by reducing or increasing broods by two hatchlings. In the middle of the nestling period (on day 8), nestlings from enlarged broods developed lower T cell responses [as measured from the cutaneous swelling reaction to injection with phytohaemagglutinin (PHA)] and tended to have lower total leukocyte and lymphocyte concentrations in their peripheral blood than nestlings from reduced broods. Brood size manipulation affected the PHA response of nestlings most strongly in small clutches, suggesting that nestling immune function was dependent on their parents’ condition, as estimated by original clutch size. Intra-brood differences in nestling mortality were unrelated to immune parameters, but nestlings in broods without mortality had a stronger PHA response, higher concentration of lymphocytes and higher body mass on day 15 than nestlings in broods with mortality. These results support the prediction that the immune function of altricial birds is affected by rearing conditions, and that growth and immune parameters are related to inter-brood differences in nestling survival.
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