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Oecologia. 2005 Sep;145(2):244-51. Epub 2005 Oct 25.

Responding to inflammatory challenges is less costly for a successful avian invader, the house sparrow (Passer domesticus), than its less-invasive congener.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.


When introduced into new regions, invading organisms leave many native pathogens behind and also encounter evolutionarily novel disease threats. In the presence of predominantly novel pathogens that have not co-evolved to avoid inducing a strong host immune response, costly and potentially dangerous defenses such as the systemic inflammatory response could become more harmful than protective to the host. We therefore hypothesized that introduced populations exhibiting dampened inflammatory responses will tend to be more invasive. To provide initial data to assess this hypothesis, we measured metabolic, locomotor, and reproductive responses to inflammatory challenges in North American populations of the highly invasive house sparrow (Passer domesticus) and its less-invasive relative, the tree sparrow (Passer montanus). In the house sparrow, there was no effect of phytohemagglutinin (PHA) challenge on metabolic rate, and there were no detectable differences in locomotor activity between lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-injected birds and saline-injected controls. In contrast, tree sparrows injected with PHA had metabolic rates 20-25% lower than controls, and LPS injection resulted in a 35% drop in locomotor activity. In a common garden captive breeding experiment, there was no effect of killed-bacteria injections on reproduction in the house sparrow, while tree sparrows challenged with bacteria decreased egg production by 40% compared to saline-injected controls. These results provide some of the first data correlating variation in immune defenses with invasion success in introduced-vertebrate populations.

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