Strength and cost of an induced immune response are associated with a heritable melanin-based colour trait in female tawny owls

Julien Gasparini*, Pierre Bize, Romain Piault, Kazumasa Wakamatsu, Jonathan D. Blount, Anne-Lyse Ducrest, Alexandre Roulin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

89 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Melanin pigments provide the most widespread source of coloration in vertebrates, but the adaptive function of such traits remains poorly known.

In a wild population of tawny owls (Strix aluco), we investigated the relationships between plumage coloration, which varies continuously from dark to pale reddish, and the strength and cost of an induced immune response.

The degree of reddishness in tawny owl feather colour was positively correlated with the concentration of phaeomelanin and eumelanin pigments, and plumage coloration was highly heritable (h(2) = 0.93). No carotenoids were detected in the feathers.

In mothers, the degree of melanin-based coloration was associated with antibody production against a vaccine, with dark reddish females maintaining a stronger level of antibody for a longer period of time compared to pale reddish females, but at a cost in terms of greater loss of body mass.

A cross-fostering experiment showed that, independent of maternal coloration, foster chicks reared by vaccinated mothers were lighter than those reared by nonvaccinated mothers. Hence, even though dark reddish mothers suffered a stronger immune cost than pale reddish mothers, this asymmetric cost was not translated to offspring growth.

Our study suggests that different heritable melanin-based colorations are associated with alternative strategies to resist parasite attacks, with dark reddish individuals investing more resources towards the humoral immune response than lightly reddish conspecifics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)608-616
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Volume78
Issue number3
Early online date13 Jan 2009
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2009

Keywords

  • antibody production
  • colour polymorphism
  • cross-fostering
  • immunity
  • melanin
  • parasites
  • KITTIWAKE RISSA-TRIDACTYLA
  • BURGDORFERI-SENSU-LATO
  • STRIX-ALUCO
  • TYTO-ALBA
  • MELANOCORTIN SYSTEM
  • PLUMAGE TRAIT
  • BARN OWL
  • POLYMORPHISM
  • EVOLUTION
  • PIGMENTATION

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