Ecologists sometimes assume immunological indices reflect fundamental attributes of individuals-an important assumption if an index is to be interpreted in an evolutionary context since among-individual variation drives natural selection. Yet the extent to which individuals vary over different timescales is poorly understood. Haptoglobin, an acute phase protein, is an interesting parameter for studying variability as it is easily quantified and concentrations vary widely due to the molecule's role in inflammation, infection and trauma. We quantified haptoglobin in pigeon plasma samples collected over fourteen months and calculated repeatability to evaluate if haptoglobin concentration is a distinctive trait of individuals. We also explored the capacity of baseline haptoglobin concentrations to predict an array of physiological changes associated with a subsequent experimentally-induced inflammatory response. Maximum repeatability, which occurred over a short mid-winter interval, equaled 0.57. Baseline haptoglobin concentrations predicted response haptoglobin concentrations better than any other endotoxin-induced change. Overall, we identified several strengths and limitations of baseline [Hp] quantification. Acknowledging these qualities should lead to more refined conclusions in studies of the ecology and evolution of immune function.
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