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Maternal effects

Females may provide their offspring with non-genetic benefits, maternal effects, that can have a dramatic impact on offspring fitness. The maternal effects considered here are those transferred via the egg to the offspring of birds, hence the time period for uptake are restricted to the period before hatching. Among the maternal factors that can be transferred by the mother to her offspring are hormones, antibodies and nutrients. Parasites and other pathogens can have a decisive impact on the survival and performance of individuals hence protection against disease agents must be essential in natural populations. As the adaptive immune system of nestlings matures slowly, maternally transferred antibodies may constitute an important addition to the nestlings’ ability to take care of antigens. Despite this, there are surprisingly few studies that have investigated how offspring are directly (in 1-2 week old neonates) and indirectly (in particular long-term consequences in mature individuals and adults) affected by maternal antibody transfer. Questions we would like to pursue here is to what extent antibodies transferred to offspring is a reflection of the local disease environment and mirrors the circulating populations of antibodies in the female, the cost to the female of antibody transfer, for how long the maternal antibodies are effective against antigens and how the maternally derived antibodies affect the maturation of the nestlings’ own immune system.

Blue tit caught in net

Page Manager:
Hatching nestlings

Contact information

Jan-Åke Nilsson
Evolutionary ecology

Telephone: +46 46-222 45 69
E-mail: Jan-Ake [dot] Nilsson [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se