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Keywords:

  • Blue tit, cost of resistance;
  • ecological immunology;
  • immunocompetence;
  • inducible defence;
  • Parus caeruleus;
  • physiological trade-offs

A fundamental assumption of theories of the ecology and evolution of inducible defences is that protective responses to attacks by parasites or predators should not only have benefits, but also costs. The vertebrate immune system is by far the best studied example of an inducible defence, yet little is known about the costs of an immune response, especially in natural populations. To test if an immune response per se is costly, we induced an antibody response in female blue tits, Parus caeruleus, by immunising them with human diphtheria–tetanus vaccine, and compared their nestling-feeding rate with that of saline-injected controls. We found that vaccinated females reduced their nestling feeding rate, thus demonstrating a cost of the immune response in the currency of parental effort.