Ecophysiological studies have highlighted the relevance of the avian immune system in individual fitness prospects in the wild. However, studies on the ontogeny of avian immunity are scarce. We analyse age-related changes in the cellular constitutive immunity throughout nestling development, as well as its relationship with sex and brood size. We found that cellular constitutive immunity could be affected by age, sex, brood size, or daily rhythm. Early-stage nestlings relied more on cells of the innate immunity rather than on cells linked to the adaptive immune system. Cellular immunity may not be fully mature in fledglings, as reflected by differences in phagocytic cell counts with regard to adults. Beyond the age-dependent effects, agranulocyte cell counts were affected by sibling competition while granulocyte cell counts showed a daily rhythm. We also show that the heterophil to lymphocyte ratio was negatively related to body weight when nestlings become more independent. Our study contributes knowledge to the fields of developmental immunology and ecological immunology based on essential components of the cellular immune system.
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We are very grateful to all the volunteers who helped to collect data over the completely breeding season. We also thank one anonymous journal reviewer and Associate Editor for their valuable assistance on the earlier draft of the article. This study is a contribution to the research developed at the “El Ventorrillo” field station.
The project was funded by projects CGL2011-26318 to DG (Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad) and PGC2018-099596-B-I00 to LP-R (Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades, co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund-ERDF). JM was supported by a postdoctoral grant from the Juan de la Cierva Subprogram (FJCI-2017-34109), with the financial sponsorship of the MICINN. CV was supported by a contract from the program “Contratos Asociados a Proyectos de Investigación”, Universidad de Alcalá, Madrid, Spain. LP-R was supported by a postdoctoral contract for accessing the Spanish System of Science, Technology and Innovation (SECTI) from the University of Castilla-La Mancha.
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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All applicable international, national and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. Capture and manipulation of birds were authorized by the Consejería de Medio Ambiente (Comunidad de Madrid, Spain) under licence from the Spanish institutional authorities (Consejería de Medio Ambiente and Centro de Migración de Aves de SEO/BirdLife).
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Muriel, J., Vida, C., Gil, D. et al. Ontogeny of leukocyte profiles in a wild altricial passerine. J Comp Physiol B 191, 195–206 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00360-020-01323-z
- Age-specific pattern
- Cell-mediated immunity
- Daily rhythm
- Leukocyte count
- Nestling development
- Sturnus unicolor