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Energetic and developmental costs of mounting an immune response in greenfinches (Carduelis chloris)

Abstract

It is assumed that there is a trade-off between the costs allocated to mounting an immune defence and those allocated to costly functions such as breeding and moulting. The physiological basis for this is that mounting an immune response to pathogen challenge has energetic and/or nutrient costs which may interfere with metabolic processes of the challenged individual. If the energetic costs of mounting an immune response are not too high, animals may face such costs by increasing their acquisition of food energy, suggesting that limited nutrients may be responsible for the costs of immune defence. We assessed the energetic and developmental costs of mounting an immune response in an experiment in captivity with first-year greenfinches (Carduelis chloris) challenged with sheep red blood cells and Brucella abortus. Antibody production against both antigens increased the daily energy expenditure (4.7%) of immune-challenged birds relative to control birds, although the difference was non-significant. We estimated that the maximum effect size supported by the data would be 9.9% higher in immune-challenged birds relative to control birds. We plucked the two outermost rectrices of each bird to assess the effects of the immune challenge on growth of the regenerated feathers. The immune challenge had no significant effect on the length of the regenerated rectrices. However, these feathers were more asymmetric in length in immune-challenged birds than in control birds. Although first-year male greenfinches paid a relatively low energetic cost when mounting an immune response, we suggest that immune-challenged individuals may have paid some costs over the long term based on the increased fluctuating asymmetry in the developing feathers.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Rocío Ruíz, Nico Varo and Manuel Vázquez for field assistance and taking care of birds in captivity. Consejería de Medio Ambiente (Junta de Andalucía) gave permission to capture the birds and carry out the experiments. Financial support was received from Spanish DGESIC (grant PB98-0494-C02-01). The manuscript benefited from the comments of two anonymous referees on an earlier version.

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Correspondence to Juan A. Amat.

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Amat, J.A., Aguilera, E. & Visser, G.H. Energetic and developmental costs of mounting an immune response in greenfinches (Carduelis chloris). Ecol Res 22, 282 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11284-006-0022-z

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Keywords

  • Carduelis chloris
  • Energetic costs
  • Fluctuating asymmetry
  • Immune response
  • Trade-offs