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Dev Comp Immunol. 2009 Apr;33(4):456-63. doi: 10.1016/j.dci.2008.09.006. Epub 2008 Oct 9.

Ontogeny of innate and adaptive immune defense components in free-living tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor.

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Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011,


Little is known about the development of immune function in wild animals. We investigated the ontogeny of immune defense in a free-living bird, the tree swallow. We assessed total and differential leukocyte counts, natural antibodies, complement activity, in vivo skin swelling response, and in vitro lymphocyte proliferation and compared the levels of development between nestlings and young adults. We also assessed whether body condition explained variation in these immune components. We found some support for the prediction that innate defenses, which do not need to generate a broad repertoire of specific receptors, would reach adult levels earlier than adaptive defenses. In contrast, we found limited support for the prediction that adaptive defenses, which are thought to be more costly to develop, would be more related to body condition than innate defenses. We discuss our findings in the context of other studies on the ontogeny of immune function.

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