Seasonal redistribution of immune function in migrant shorebird: annual cycle effects override adjustments to thermal regime

D.M. Buehler, T. Piersma, K.D. Matson, B.I. Tieleman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

117 Citations (Scopus)


Throughout the annual cycle, demands on competing physiological systems change, and animals must allocate resources to maximize fitness. Immune function is one such system and is important for survival. Yet detailed empirical data tracking immune function over the entire annual cycle are lacking for most wild animals. We measured constitutive immune indices once a month for a year on captive red knots (Calidris canutus). We also examined temperature as an environmental contributor to immune variation by manipulating ambient temperature to vary energy expenditure. To identify relationships among immune indices, we performed principal-component analysis. We found significant repeatability in immune indices over the annual cycle and covariation of immune indices within and among individuals. This covariation suggests immune strategies as individual traits among individuals and the use of different immune strategies during different annual-cycle stages within individuals. Over the annual cycle, both higher-cost phagocyte-based immunity and lower-cost lymphocyte-based immunity were high during mass change, but there was a clear shift toward lower-cost lymphocyte-based immunity during peak molt. Experimental manipulation of temperature had little effect on annual variation in immune function. This suggests that other environmental factors, such as food availability and disease, should also be examined in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)783-796
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • long-distance migrant
  • trade-offs
  • ecological immunology
  • calidris-canutus
  • red knots
  • evolutionary ecology
  • natural antibodies
  • tropical birds
  • life-history
  • innate


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