Reduced immunocompetence of nestlings in replacement clutches of the European magpie (Pica pica)

Magpie (Pica pica) Science Article 1


Laying date is one of the most important determinants of reproductive success and recruitment probability in birds. Late breeders usually fledge fewer chicks than individuals with earlier breeding dates, and fledglings produced late in the season have high mortality rates. Food availability and nestling mass have been evoked as the principal mechanistic links between laying date and offspring survival. Here we suggest that another factor may actually account for the difference in survival rate between early and late offspring: immunocompetence. We predicted that nestlings produced later in the season or in replacement clutches should have lower immune responses when challenged with an antigen, than early nestlings or nestlings produced in first clutches. This hypothesis was tested in a population of magpies (Pica pica), in which we experimentally induced breeding failure in a group of nests and compared the immune response of nestlings in replacement clutches with the immune response of first clutch nestlings. Cellular immune response, as measured by wing web swelling (a correlate of T-lymphocyte production after injection of phytoh magglutinin-P), significantly decreased with hatching date and was significantly lower in nestlings of replacement clutches. Furthermore, coefficients of intraclutch variation in immune response were higher in nestlings of replacement clutches. This experiment demonstrates an inverse relationship between immune responsiveness and breeding date, and reduced recruitment probability of late nestlings may be a direct consequence of their inability to cope with parasites.

G. Sorci, J. J. Soler, A. P. Moller, Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B (1997) 264, 1593^1598

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