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Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Mar 7;274(1610):697-706.

Inbreeding effects on immune response in free-living song sparrows (Melospiza melodia).

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School of Biological Sciences, Zoology Building, University of Aberdeen, Tillydrone Avenue, Aberdeen AB24 2TZ, UK.


The consequences of inbreeding for host immunity to parasitic infection have broad implications for the evolutionary and dynamical impacts of parasites on populations where inbreeding occurs. To rigorously assess the magnitude and the prevalence of inbreeding effects on immunity, multiple components of host immune response should be related to inbreeding coefficient (f) in free-living individuals. We used a pedigreed, free-living population of song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) to test whether individual responses to widely used experimental immune challenges varied consistently with f. The patagial swelling response to phytohaemagglutinin declined markedly with f in both females and males in both 2002 and 2003, although overall inbreeding depression was greater in males. The primary antibody response to tetanus toxoid declined with f in females but not in males in both 2004 and 2005. Primary antibody responses to diphtheria toxoid were low but tended to decline with f in 2004. Overall inbreeding depression did not solely reflect particularly strong immune responses in outbred offspring of immigrant-native pairings or weak responses in highly inbred individuals. These data indicate substantial and apparently sex-specific inbreeding effects on immune response, implying that inbred hosts may be relatively susceptible to parasitic infection to differing degrees in males and females.

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