Human Recreation Decreases Antibody Titre in Bird Nestlings: An Overlooked Transgenerational Effect of Disturbance

May 15, 2020 | Biology

Reading time: 1-2 minutes

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Yves Bötsch, Zulima Tablado, Bettina Almasi, and Lukas Jenni

Outdoor recreational activities are booming and most animals perceive humans as predators, which triggers behavioural and/or physiological reactions [e.g. heart rate increase, activation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis]. Physiological stress reactions have been shown to affect the immune system of an animal and therefore may also affect the amount of maternal antibodies a female transmits to her offspring. A few studies have revealed that the presence of predators affects the amount of maternal antibodies deposited into eggs of birds. In this study, using Eurasian blue and great tit offspring (Cyanistes caeruleus and Parus major) as model species, we experimentally tested whether human recreation induces changes in the amount of circulating antibodies in young nestlings and whether this effect is modulated by habitat and competition. Moreover, we investigated whether these variations in antibody titre in turn have an impact on hatching success and offspring growth. Nestlings of great tit females that had been disturbed by experimental human recreation during egg laying had lower antibody titres compared with control nestlings. Antibody titre of nestling blue tits showed a negative correlation with the presence of great tits, rather than with human disturbance. The hatching success was positively correlated with the average amount of antibodies in great tit nestlings, independent of the treatment. Antibody titre in the first days of life in both species was positively correlated with body mass, but this relationship disappeared at fledging and was independent of treatment. We suggest that human recreation may have caused a stress-driven activation of the HPA axi... Want to read more? You can read the whole article in the Journal of Experimental Biology Blog.

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