• adaptive immunity;
  • antibody production;
  • hatching order;
  • maternal allocation;
  • sex differences


  • 1
    In many animals immunity is not fully developed until adulthood but the young still need protection against various sets of pathogens. Thus, bird nestlings are highly dependent on antibodies received from their mother (in the eggs) during their rapid early growth period. The relationship between maternal immunity and the development of neonates’ own immunity has been poorly studied.
  • 2
    It has been suggested that immune function plays an important part in mediating resource competition between different life-history traits, e.g. growth and reproduction. Maternal investment of antibodies has potentially permanent effects on offspring phenotype. Thus, the trade-offs between the immune function and other important life-history traits in the offspring will also affect the fitness of the mother.
  • 3
    Our supplemental feeding experiment in the magpie Pica pica indicates that the immunoglobulin levels of offspring at hatching are dependent on a mother's nutritional condition. In addition, the amount of maternal immunoglobulins transferred to offspring increases along the laying order within a nest.
  • 4
    We also found that at the age of 8–10 days the immunoglobulin production of the offspring has already begun. Furthermore, the maternal immunoglobulin levels of the offspring at hatching were positively related to their immunoglobulin levels on day 10.
  • 5
    Maternal immunoglobulins did not significantly affect offspring growth, but there was a negative relationship between self-produced immunoglobulins and growth over the first 10 days, indicating a trade-off between these traits. Nestlings’ weight, however, had a positive relationship with immunoglobulin production suggesting that the observed trade-off between growth and immunoglobulin production is due to catch-up growth of nestlings with a low hatching weight. We found that within nests nestlings with higher maternal antibody levels had higher survival rate until day 20, but between nests there was an opposite relationship.
  • 6
    Evidently, there is a trade-off, in magpies, between maternal resources, immune function and growth, shaping the evolution of maternal investment in offspring immunity.