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Latitudinal variation of immune defense and sickness behavior in the white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

  • Noah T Owen-Ashley
  • Dennis Hasselquist
  • Lars Råberg
  • John C Wingfield
Publishing year: 2008
Language: English
Pages: 614-625
Publication/Series: Brain Behavior and Immunity
Volume: 22
Issue: 4
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Elsevier

Abstract english

There is a general trend that parasitism risk declines as latitude increases. Host populations breeding at high latitudes should therefore invest less in costly immune defenses than populations breeding in temperate or tropical zones, although it is unknown if such an effect is mediated by environmental (photoperiodic) or genetic factors or both. Acquired immune function (humoral, cell-mediated) and behavioral sickness responses to lipopolysaccharide (LPS; mimics bacterial infection) were assessed in two subspecies of white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) that breed at different latitudes in western North America. Zonotrichia l. gambelii (GWCS) is a high-latitude breeder (47-68 degrees N) while Z. l. pugetensis (PWCS) breeds at temperate latitudes (40-49 degrees N). Captive males of each subspecies were acclimated to (1) a short day (non-breeding) photoperiod (8L:16D), (2) the breeding photoperiod of PWCS (16L:8D), or (3) the breeding photoperiod of GWCS (20L:4D). Photoperiod was manipulated because shorter day lengths may enhance immune function. In support of a genetic effect, humoral responses to diphtheria-tetanus vaccination were significantly higher in PWCS compared to GWCS, regardless of photoperiod. There were no differences in cell-mediated responses to phytohemagglutinin (PHA) between subspecies or among photoperiods. For sickness responses to LPS, a significant interaction between photoperiod and subspecies was found, with long day GWCS producing stronger sickness responses (losing more weight, eating less) than short day GWCS and PWCS on all day lengths. However, these effects were influenced by photoperiodic changes in body condition. In conclusion, we find evidence for genetic control of immune responses across latitude, but no support for environmental (photoperiodic) regulation.


  • Neurology
  • cell-mediated immunity
  • corticosterone
  • humoral immunity
  • immune
  • response
  • latitude
  • photoperiod
  • testosterone
  • sickness behavior
  • white-crowned sparrow
  • Zonotrichia leueophrys


  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 1090-2139
Dennis Hasselquist
E-mail: dennis [dot] hasselquist [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se



+46 46 222 37 08



Research group


Doctoral students and postdocs

Research fellows


Jacob Roved

PhD Students, main supervisor

PhD Students, assistant supervisor


Interview about my research in the Swedish podcast "Forskarn & jag"