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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Jan 22;270(1511):153-8.

Immune activity elevates energy expenditure of house sparrows: a link between direct and indirect costs?

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  • 1Department of Ecology, Ethology and Evolution, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Morrill Hall, Urbana-Champaign, IL 61801, USA.


The activation of an immune response is beneficial for organisms but may also have costs that affect fitness. Documented immune costs include those associated with acquisition of special nutrients, as well as immunopathology or autoimmunity. Here, we test whether an experimental induction of the immune system with a non-pathological stimulant can elevate energy turnover in passerine birds. We injected phytohaemagglutinin (PHA), a commonly used mitogen that activates the cell-mediated immune response, into the wing web of house sparrows, Passer domesticus. We then examined energetic costs resulting from this immune activity and related those costs to other physiological activities. We found that PHA injection significantly elevated resting metabolic rate (RMR) of challenged sparrows relative to saline controls. We calculated the total cost of this immune activity to be ca. 4.20 kJ per day (29% RMR), which is equivalent to the cost of production of half of an egg (8.23 kJ egg(-1)) in this species. We suggest that immune activity in wild passerines increases energy expenditure, which in turn may influence important life-history characteristics such as clutch size, timing of breeding or the scheduling of moult.

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