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Keywords:

  • immune response;
  • immunoglobulins;
  • parasite resistance;
  • sexual signals;
  • survival;
  • T-cell response

Summary

1. We tested the condition-dependent hypothesis of sexual advertisement in house sparrows (Passer domesticus). Male house sparrows have a bib of black feathers which serves as both a badge of social status and as a cue for female choice. We manipulated environmental conditions during the premoult period of juvenile house sparrows kept in outdoor aviaries. Birds were assigned to two treatments differing in the amount of dietary proteins, which are known to affect the expression of immune response in birds. We tested whether birds in the protein-rich group had better immune responses and developed larger bibs than birds reared on a protein-poor diet. We also checked whether immune response was a predictor of survival and parasite resistance.

2. Individuals with higher cellular immune response at capture had greater probability to survive during the 3 months of the experiment, and they had a higher probability to recover from infection with Haemoproteus sp. (a blood parasite). Conversely, birds with high immunoglobulin concentrations at capture had a higher probability of mortality.

3. Birds on the protein-rich diet had a higher cellular immune response compared to birds in the protein-poor treatment. Humoral immune response showed the opposite pattern, being higher for birds in the protein-poor treatment. We did not find any effect of food quality on the development of the badge, assessed as the size of the trait and its colour properties.

4. In conclusion, our results support the view that immune defences are important for survival and parasite resistance in natural populations, and that they might be costly to produce. On the other hand, we did not find support for the condition-dependent hypothesis of sexual advertisement, suggesting that the badge may not be a costly trait to produce. However, badge size could reflect other aspects of condition. The kind of pigments involved in colour signals may be the key factor determining the production costs of such traits.