Pre-laying nutrition mediates maternal effects on offspring immune capacity and growth in the pied flycatcher

Oecologia. 2008 Jul;156(4):727-35. doi: 10.1007/s00442-008-1029-7. Epub 2008 Mar 28.


We have aimed at detecting prelaying maternal effects on nestling antibody defences and growth through experimental food supplementation of female pied flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca and subsequent exchange of whole clutches with control nests. The levels of immunoglobulins and the mass and size of chicks at 12 days of age were ascertained. This is the first study controlling for maternal incubation effects by exchanging eggs rather than nestlings. Our prediction is that the females' availability of pre-laying nutritional resources affects offspring immune capacity and growth through maternal effects in the eggs when conditions during incubation and rearing are controlled for. Nestling immunoglobulin Y (IgY) levels and tarsus length were indeed positively associated with maternal food supplementation at laying. The only rearing environmental effect detected was that of mite infestation which affected both IgY levels and growth of nestlings. Nestlings that recruited to the population in the subsequent 2 years had higher IgY levels than those that did not. Maternal adaptations for allocating resources to eggs play an important role in moulding offspring phenotypes and may affect their survival prospects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / blood
  • Animals, Newborn / growth & development
  • Animals, Newborn / immunology*
  • Female
  • Immunoglobulins / blood
  • Male
  • Mites
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Songbirds / blood
  • Songbirds / growth & development
  • Songbirds / immunology*


  • IgY
  • Immunoglobulins