Geographical and temporal variation in environmental conditions affects nestling growth but not immune function in a yearround breeding equatorial lark

Henry K. Ndithia*, Samuel N. Bakari, Kevin D. Matson, Muchane Muchai, B.I. Tieleman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Variation in growth and immune function within and among populations is often associated with specific environmental conditions. We compared growth and immune function in nestlings of year-round breeding equatorial Red-capped Lark Calandrella cinerea from South Kinangop, North Kinangop and Kedong (Kenya), three locations that are geographically close but climatically distinct. In addition, we studied growth and immune function of lark nestlings as a function of year-round variation in breeding intensity and rain within one location. We monitored mass, wing, and tarsus at hatching (day 1) and at 4, 7, and 10 days post-hatch, and we quantified four indices of immune function (haptoglobin, agglutination, lysis and nitric oxide) using blood samples collected on day 10. Results: Nestling body mass and size at hatching, which presumably reflect the resources that females allocated to their eggs, were lowest in the most arid location, Kedong. Contrary to our predictions, nestlings in Kedong grew faster than nestlings in the two other cooler and wetter locations of South and North Kinangop. During periods of peak reproduction within Kedong, nestlings were heavier at hatching, but they did not grow faster over the first 10 days post-hatch. In contrast, rainfall, which did not relate to timing of breeding, had no effect on hatching mass, but more rain did coincide with faster growth post-hatch. Finally, we found no significant differences in nestling immune function, neither among locations nor with the year-round variation within Kedong. Conclusion: Based on these results, we hypothesize that female body condition determines nestling mass and size at hatching, but other independent environmental conditions subsequently shape nestling growth. Overall, our results suggest that environmental conditions related to food availability for nestlings are relatively unimportant to the timing of breeding in equatorial regions, while these same conditions do have consequences for nestling size and growth.

Original languageEnglish
Article number28
JournalFrontiers in Zoology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Breeding
  • Environment
  • Growth
  • Immunity
  • Lark
  • Weather

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