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Journal Article

Maternal yolk testosterone does not modulate parasite susceptibility or immune function in great tit nestlings

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Tschirren, B., Saladin, V., Fitze, P. S., Schwabl, H., & Richner, H. (2005). Maternal yolk testosterone does not modulate parasite susceptibility or immune function in great tit nestlings. Journal of Animal Ecology, 74(4), 675-682. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2656.2005.00963.x.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-1313-E
1. Maternal yolk hormones can enhance the development and phenotypic quality of nestling birds. Nevertheless, within species large differences in yolk androgen concentrations among clutches are observed. This differential allocation of maternal yolk hormones might be explained by a trade-off between beneficial effects of yolk androgens and their associated costs. 2. Potential costs include an increased susceptibility to parasites in nestlings exposed to high concentrations of yolk androgens during embryonic development, weaker immune response or increased levels of circulating corticosterone that indirectly reduce immune function. 3. In a field study, we manipulated yolk testosterone in great tit (Parus major) eggs and tested the nestling's susceptibility to ectoparasites as measured by the parasites' effect on growth, the cellular immune response, and the levels of circulating corticosterone. 4. At the end of the nestling period, nestlings originating from testosterone-injected eggs were heavier than control nestlings. This effect was strongest in nestlings at the end of the size hierarchy, as shown by a significant interaction between hormone treatment and the nestlings' size rank within nests. 5. High levels of yolk testosterone promoted growth of the nestling's body mass similarly in parasite-infested and parasite-free nests, and neither affected the levels of plasma corticosterone, nor the nestling's cell-mediated immune response. 6. In summary, our results do not show negative short-term effects of high concentrations of yolk testosterone on immune function or parasite susceptibility, but emphasize that maternal investment via deposition of yolk testosterone can promote fitness-related growth and development of nestlings.