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Immunoglobulin plasma concentration in relation to egg laying and mate ornamentation of female barn swallows (Hirundo rustica)

Saino, N., Martinelli, R., Møller, A. P.
Journal of evolutionary biology 2001 v.14 no.1 pp. 95-109
Hirundo rustica, birds, breeding, correlation, eggs, females, hatching, hematocrit, immune system, immunoglobulins, males, oviposition, parasites, pathogens, progeny
In vertebrates, offspring have a relatively inefficient immune system soon after birth. Female birds transmit immunoglobulins to the egg, which can confer protection against parasites to their offspring after hatching, but allocation of immune factors can depend on the reproductive value of the offspring as affected, for example, by the quality of their father. We analyse the variation in immunoglobulin levels of female barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) during the breeding cycle in relation to the expression of a secondary sexual character of their mates. Circulating immunoglobulins peaked on approximately the day before that of laying of their first egg, but postlaying concentration was similar to the concentration well before laying. Immunoglobulin levels per unit volume of plasma were lower for females breeding late compared with those breeding early. Haematocrit of females reached an absolute minimum on the day of laying of the third egg. In males, concentration of immunoglobulins relative to other plasma proteins did not change in relation to the breeding stage. Smaller relative concentrations of immunoglobulins and haematocrit were observed in males breeding late in the season. Immunoglobulin concentration of females was positively correlated with the level of ornamentation of their mates. These results suggest that females alter their immune profile to transmit humoral factors providing immune defence against pathogens to their offspring after hatching. This enhancement of immune protection is larger when the offsprings are of relatively large reproductive value as when sired by high quality males. Alternatively, females with relatively large immunoglobulin concentration preferentially mate with the most ornamented males.