Are incubation costs in female pied flycatchers expressed in humoral immune responsiveness or breeding success?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Although clutch size variation has been a key target for studies of avian life history theory, most empirical work has only focused on the ability of parents to raise their altricial young. In this study, we test the hypothesis that costs incurred during incubation may be an additional factor constraining clutch size in altricial birds. In the pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca), we manipulated the incubation effort of the female by enlarging and reducing clutch sizes. To manipulate incubation effort only, the original clutch sizes were restored shortly after hatching. We found that fledging success was lower among broods whose clutches were enlarged during incubation. There was, however, no effect of manipulation on female body condition or on their ability to mount a humoral immune response to diphtheria or tetanus toxoid during the incubation or nestling provisioning pxeriod. Instead, we found that the original clutch size was related to the immune response so that females with seven eggs had significantly lower primary antibody responses against tetanus compared to those with six eggs. Our results suggest that incubating females are not willing to jeopardise their own condition and immune function, but instead pay the costs of incubating a larger clutch by lower offspring production. The results support the view that costs of producing and incubating eggs may be substantial and hence that these costs are likely to contribute to shaping the optimal clutch size in altricial birds.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biological Sciences
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-204
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Publication categoryResearch