Infectious Diseases, Reproductive Effort and the Cost of Reproduction in Birds

L. Gustafsson, D. Nordling, M. S. Andersson, B. C. Sheldon, A. Qvarnstrom

Abstract

Reproductive effort can have profound effects on subsequent performance. Field experiments on the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis) have demonstrated a number of trade-offs between life-history traits at different ages. The mechanism by which reproductive effort is mediated into future reproductive performance remains obscure. Anti-parasite adaptations such as cell-mediated immunity may probably also be costly. Hence the possibility exists of a trade-off between reproductive effort and the ability to resist parasitic infection. Serological tests on unmanipulated collared flycatchers show that pre-breeding nutritional status correlates positively with reproductive success and negatively with susceptibility to parasitism (viruses, bacteria and protozoan parasites). Both immune response and several indicators of infectious disease correlate negatively with reproductive success. Similar relations are found between secondary sexual characters and infection parameters. For brood-size-manipulated birds there was a significant interaction between experimentally increased reproductive effort and parasitic infection rate with regard to both current and future fecundity. It seems possible that the interaction between parasitic infection, nutrition and reproductive effort can be an important mechanism in the ultimate shaping of life-history variation in avian populations.