Migrating birds rapidly increase constitutive immune function during stopover

Cas Eikenaar, Sven Hessler, Arne Hegemann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Migratory flight is physiologically highly demanding and has been shown to negatively affect multiple parameters of constitutive immune function (CIF), an animal’s first line of physiological defence against infections. In between migratory flights, most birds make stopovers, periods during which they accumulate fuel for the next flight(s). Stopovers are also commonly thought of as periods of rest and recovery, but what this encompasses is largely undefined. Here, we show that during stopover, northern wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe, a long-distance migratory bird, can rapidly increase constitutive innate immune function. We caught and temporarily caged birds under ad libitum food conditions at a stopover site in autumn. Within 2 days, most birds significantly increased complement activity and their ability to kill microbes. Changes in immune function were not related to the birds’ food intake or extent of fuel accumulation. Our study suggests that stopovers may not only be important to refuel but also to restore immune function. Additionally, the increase in CIF could help migrating birds to deal with novel pathogens they may encounter at stopover sites.

Original languageEnglish
Article number192031
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Feb 5

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Behavioral Sciences Biology

Free keywords

  • Avian
  • Eco-immunology
  • Immunity
  • Longitudinal (within-individual) data
  • Migration
  • Recovery


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