Exposure to artificial light at night alters innate immune response in wild great tit nestlings

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The large-scale impact of urbanization on wildlife is rather well documented; however, the mechanisms underlying the effects of urban environments on animal physiology and behaviour are still poorly understood. Here, we focused on one major urban pollutant – artificial light at night (ALAN) – and its effects on the capacity to mount an innate immune response in wild great tit (Parus major) nestlings. Exposure to ALAN alters circadian rhythms of physiological processes, by disrupting the nocturnal production of the hormone melatonin. Nestlings were exposed to a light source emitting 3 lx for seven consecutive nights. Subsequently, nestlings were immune challenged with a lipopolysaccharide injection, and we measured haptoglobin and nitric oxide levels pre- and post-injection. Both haptoglobin and nitric oxide are important markers for innate immune function. We found that ALAN exposure altered the innate immune response, with nestlings exposed to ALAN having lower haptoglobin and higher nitric oxide levels after the immune challenge compared with dark-night nestlings. Unexpectedly, nitric oxide levels were overall lower after the immune challenge than before. These effects were probably mediated by melatonin, as ALAN-treated birds had on average 49% lower melatonin levels than the dark-night birds. ALAN exposure did not have any clear effects on nestling growth. This study provides a potential physiological mechanism underlying the documented differences in immune function between urban and rural birds observed in other studies. Moreover, it gives evidence that ALAN exposure affects nestling physiology, potentially causing long-term effects on physiology and behaviour, which ultimately can affect their fitness.
Original languageEnglish
Article number239350
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2021 May 14

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Ecology
  • Zoology


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