Predation risk affects the levels of maternal immune factors in avian eggs


C. Morosinotto, Dept of Biology, Section of Ecology, Univ. of Turku, FI-20014, Finland. E-mail:


Predation risk is an environmental stressor that can induce changes in prey behavior and physiology. Perception of predation risk may indirectly affect offspring traits and future fitness prospects via impacts on the condition of parents. Females may influence the survival of their offspring via maternal effects, especially when breeding in stressful conditions. We investigated the effects of continuous predation risk perceived by mothers on the maternal allocation of immune factors and carotenoids in eggs of the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca. We collected eggs from wild pied flycatchers that bred in the vicinity of a predator nest (pygmy owl Glaucidium passerinum), were exposed to cues of a mammalian nest predator (urine of least weasel Mustela nivalis), or received appropriate controls for these two groups. Pied flycatchers transferred more immunoglobulin in eggs under high predation risk in both owl and mammalian predator treatments. The presence of owl nests also lowered the level of lysozyme transferred in the eggs in one of the two study years. Predation risk did not modify egg size or overall carotenoid levels. Our results show that continuous predation risk perceived by females during egg-laying affects egg composition. This different allocation of maternal immune factors may be an adaptive response evolved to increase the probability of offspring survival.