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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2008 Sep-Oct;81(5):673-81. doi: 10.1086/588591.

Constitutive immune function responds more slowly to handling stress than corticosterone in a shorebird.

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  • 1Animal Ecology Group, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen, P.O. Box 14, 9750 AA, Haren, The Netherlands.


Ecological immunologists are interested in how immune function changes during different seasons and under different environmental conditions. However, an obstacle to answering such questions is discerning the effects of biological factors of interest and investigation artifacts such as handling stress. Here we examined handling stress and its effects on constitutive (noninduced) immune function via two protocols on captive red knots (Calidris canutus). We investigated how constitutive immunity responds to handling stress, how quickly these changes take place, and the practical implications for researchers interested in sampling baseline immune levels. We found that Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans killing increased with handling stress while total leukocyte and lymphocyte concentrations decreased. However, although corticosterone increased significantly and rapidly in response to handling stress, none of the 10 measures of constitutive immunity that we tested differed significantly from baseline within 20 or 30 min of capture. Thus, researchers interested in baseline immune function should sample animals as soon as possible after capture, but studies in species not easily sampled in less than 3 min (such as red knots) could still yield useful results.

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