Publisher: Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and Blackwell Publishing Ltd
We investigated whether exposure to heavy metal pollution affected the immune function of individuals in a free living population of a small insectivorous passerine bird, the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca. We measured humoral immune responses in two study areas: a polluted area in the vicinity of a copper smelter and a control area far from the smelter. Plasma corticosterone level and blood heterophil/lymphocyte ratio (H/L) were used as more general physiological measures of stress. The immune response of F hypoleuca was not suppressed by pollution stress. In contrast, we found that F hypoleuca males showed stronger Immoral immune responses to a novel antigen (tetanus toxoid) in the polluted environment than in the unpolluted one. After the immunization of males, numbers of lymphocytes rose significantly more in the polluted area, leading to a smaller H/L ratio than in males from the control area. Females showed no pollution related effects on their immune responses. Corticosterone levels of males and nestlings were not related to pollution levels. Nestlings showed somewhat higher H/L ratios and lower fledging success in the polluted area, both factors indicating increased stress levels in a polluted area. Our results suggest that Immoral immune response of male F hypoleuca may be enhanced under moderate levels of heavy metal Pollution. Enhanced immune function may, however, also be costly for birds and the higher humoral immune responses in polluted areas may thus have negative effects on the birds' breeding performance and survival.