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Am Nat. 1997 Aug;150(2):201-19.

The relation among gonadal steroids, immunocompetence, body mass, and behavior in young black-headed gulls (Larus ridibundus).

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  • 1Department of Behavioural Biology, Biological Centre, University of Groningen, Kerklaan 30, 9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands.


We experimentally examined the effect of testosterone on the antibody response to a single immunization with sheep red blood cells in young black-headed gulls. This species performs a number of testosterone-mediated elaborate postural displays in social interactions and breeds in dense colonies in which there is a high likelihood of infectious diseases. In young chicks, only one-third were capable of responding to immunization. In the responding chicks, testosterone enhanced antibody titers. Even when antibody responsiveness was measured >1 mo after the termination of hormonal treatment, antibody responses were enhanced in birds treated with androgen but not estrogen. At 9 mo of age, all birds responded to immunization, but there was no effect of testosterone on antibody titers. In these juveniles, frequency of display behavior was negatively related to changes in body mass, which suggests that displaying is energetically costly. Despite decreased body mass, antibody titers were highest in birds that displayed more frequently. This suggests that displaying signals immunocompetence. The results are discussed in relation to the immunocompetence handicap hypothesis and to what is known of the influence of the bursa of Fabricius and social stress on antibody production.

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