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Immunity in birds

New research shows that the immunity of brood parasite birds like cuckoos could be linked to the environment that they grew up in.
Immunity in birds
Honeyguides and cuckoo finches are brood parasite birds that exploit other bird species to raise their young. Different hatchlings are exposed to different environments and diseases, because of their host parents.

Disease pressures, and the fact that the surrogate bird's eggs remain to rot in the nest, might require the honeyguide hatchlings to develop strong immune systems. Their immunity and unique methods of rearing make brood parasite birds ideal test subjects to study the development of animal immune systems.

HONEYGUIDEIMMUNITY (The evolution of immune defences in avian brood parasites and their hosts) studied the immune defences of honeyguide and host hatchlings under different disease pressures. The study influenced half of their honeyguide test hatchlings with an increased immunological challenge and left the other half unchallenged as a control.

The immunologically challenged hatchlings grew slower than the control group, which might be explained if they invested more energy into immunity than into growth. Overall, honeyguide chicks had stronger immune defences than host chicks.

Project scientists hypothesised that the varying environments that brood parasites grow up in might also have long-term consequences on levels of immune defences. To test this theory, the study used another type of brood parasite, the cuckoo finch, where genetic tests allow adult birds to be linked to the particular host species that raised them. However, the researchers found no evidence that the immune defences of adult cuckoo finches were related to the host species they were raised by, suggesting that immune investment in early life need not influence immune defences in adulthood.

This study is one of the first of its kind to examine early-life immune development in birds. The techniques employed and the results generated by this study provide insight into the causes and consequences of immunological variation in animals.

Related information

Keywords

Immunity, birds, brood parasite, honeyguides, cuckoo finches, hatchlings
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