Immune function and blood parasite infections impact stopover ecology in passerine birds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Stopovers play a crucial role for the success of migrating animals and are key to optimal migration theory. Variation in refuelling rates, stopover duration and departure decisions among individuals has been related to several external factors. The physiological mechanisms shaping stopover ecology are, however, less well understood. Here, we explore how immune function and blood parasite infections relate to several aspects of stopover behaviour in autumn migrating short- and long-distance migrating songbirds. We blood sampled individuals of six species and used an automated radio-telemetry system in the stopover area to subsequently quantify stopover duration, ‘bush-level’ activity patterns (~ 0.1–30 m), landscape movements (~ 30–6000 m), departure direction and departure time. We show that complement activity, the acute phase protein haptoglobin and blood parasite infections were related to prolonged stopover duration. Complement activity (i.e., lysis) and total immunoglobulins were negatively correlated with bush-level activity patterns. The differences partly depended on whether birds were long-distance or short-distance migrants. Birds infected with avian malaria-like parasites showed longer landscape movements during the stopover than uninfected individuals, and birds with double blood parasite infections departed more than 2.5 h later after sunset/sunrise suggesting shorter flight bouts. We conclude that variation in baseline immune function and blood parasite infection status affects stopover ecology and helps explain individual variation in stopover behaviour. These differences affect overall migration speed, and thus can have significant impact on migration success and induce carry-over effects on other annual-cycle stages. Immune function and blood parasites should, therefore, be considered as important factors when applying optimal migration theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1011-1024
Issue number4
Early online date2018 Nov 1
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Ecology

Free keywords

  • Avian migration
  • Eco-immunology
  • Eco-physiology
  • Optimal migration


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