Cellular immune response, stress resistance and competitiveness in nestling great tits in relation to maternally transmitted carotenoids

Berthouly, Anne; Helfenstein, Fabrice; Richner, Heinz (2007). Cellular immune response, stress resistance and competitiveness in nestling great tits in relation to maternally transmitted carotenoids. Functional Ecology, 2(21), pp. 335-343. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications 10.1111/j.1365-2435.2006.01236.x

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1. Egg yolks contain carotenoids that protect biological molecules against free-radical damage and promote maturation of the immune system. Availability of carotenoids to birds is often limited. Trade-offs can thus arise in the allocation of carotenoids to different physiological functions, and mothers may influence the immunocompetence of nestlings by modulating the transfer of carotenoid to the yolk.;2. In the great tit Parus major, we experimentally manipulated the dietary supply of carotenoid to mothers, and partially cross-fostered hatchlings to investigate the effect of an increased availability of carotenoids during egg laying on immunocompetence of nestlings.;3. In addition, we infested half of the nests with hen fleas Ceratophyllus gallinae to investigate the relationship between carotenoid availability, resistance to ectoparasites and immunocompetence.;4. We found that the procedure of cross-fostering can reduce the immune response of nestlings, but this effect can be compensated by the maternally transferred carotenoids. Cross-fostered nestlings of carotenoid-supplemented females show a similar immune response to non-cross-fostered nestlings, while cross-fostered nestlings of control females mounted a weaker cell-mediated immune response. This suggests that yolk carotenoids may help nestlings to cope with stress, for example the one generated by cross-fostering and/or they may enhance nestling competitiveness.;5. There was no statistically significant interaction between parasite and carotenoid treatments, as would be expected if carotenoids helped nestlings to fight parasites. Under parasite pressure, however, lighter nestlings raised a lower immune response, while the immune response was only weakly correlated with body mass in uninfested nests.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE) > Evolutionary Ecology

UniBE Contributor:

Richner, Heinz




Blackwell Scientific Publications


Factscience Import

Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2013 14:58

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:18

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Web of Science ID:



https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/24872 (FactScience: 53482)

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