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Keywords:

  • breeding dispersal;
  • cell-mediated immunity;
  • ecological plasticity;
  • natal dispersal;
  • phytohaemagglutinin

Abstract

Host-parasite interactions have been hypothesized to affect the evolution of dispersal by providing a possibility for hosts to escape debilitating parasites, and by influencing the level of local adaptation. We used a comparative approach to investigate the relationship between a component of host immune function (which reflects the evolutionary history of parasite-induced natural selection) and dispersal in birds. We used a sample of 46 species of birds for which we had obtained field estimates of T-cell response for nestlings, mainly from our own field studies in Denmark and Spain. Bird species with longer natal, but not with longer breeding dispersal distances had a stronger mean T-cell-mediated immune response in nestlings than species with short dispersal distances. That was also the case when controlling for the potentially confounding effect of migration from breeding to wintering area, which is known from previous studies to be positively associated with dispersal distance. These relationships held even when controlling for similarity among species because of common ancestry. Avian hosts with a larger number of different breeding habitats had weaker mean T-cell-mediated immune responses than habitat specialists. This relationship held even when controlling for similarity among species because of common ancestry. Therefore, T-cell-mediated immunity is an important predictor of evolutionary changes in dispersal ability among common European birds.