Nestling immune response to phytohaemagglutinin is not heritable in collared flycatchers

Biol Lett. 2007 Aug 22;3(4):418-21. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2007.0135.


The response to intradermally injected phytohaemagglutinin (PHA-response) is a commonly used quantification of avian immunocompetence (the ability to resist pathogens). Parasite-mediated sexual selection requires heritable immunocompetence, but evidence for heritability of PHA-response in birds largely stems from full-sib comparisons. Using an animal model approach, we quantified the narrow-sense heritability of PHA-response in 1626 collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis) nestlings from 332 families, most of which were cross-fostered. Nestling PHA-response was not significantly heritable (h2=0.06+/-0.10), but was subject to non-heritable nest-of-origin effects (10% of variation). Our findings illustrate that full-sib comparisons of immunological measures may lead to an inflated estimate of heritability and also reveal a limited role of nestling PHA-response for sexual selection in this population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / genetics
  • Animals, Newborn / immunology
  • Edema / chemically induced
  • Edema / genetics
  • Edema / immunology
  • Hypersensitivity / etiology
  • Hypersensitivity / genetics*
  • Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • Models, Animal
  • Phytohemagglutinins / immunology*
  • Songbirds / genetics*
  • Songbirds / immunology*
  • Wings, Animal


  • Phytohemagglutinins