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Early life conditions can affect individuals for life, with harsh developmental conditions resulting in lower fitness, but the underlying mechanisms are not well understood. We hypothesized that immune function may be part of the underlying mechanism, when harsh developmental conditions result in less effective immune function. We tested this hypothesis by comparing innate immune function between zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) in adulthood (n=230; age 108-749 days) that were reared in either small or large broods. We used this experimental background to follow up our earlier finding that finches reared in large broods have a shorter lifespan. To render a broad overview of innate immune function, we used an array of six measures: bacterial killing capacity, hemagglutination, hemolysis, haptoglobin, nitric oxide and ovotransferrin. We found no convincing evidence for effects of natal brood size on any of the six measures of innate immune function. This raised the question whether the origin of variation in immune function was genetic, and we therefore estimated heritabilities using animal models. However, we found heritability estimates to be low (range 0.04-0.11) for all measured immune variables, suggesting variation in innate immune function can largely be attributed to environmental effects independent of early-life conditions as modified by natal brood size.
01/10/2017 → 01/02/2023