Behavioural trait covaries with immune responsiveness in a wild passerine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Immune system is highly integrated with the nervous and endocrine systems, which is thought to result in covariation between behavioural syndromes and stress- and immune-associated diseases. Very little is known about the associations between behaviour and immune traits in wild animals. Here we describe such an association in passerine birds, the greenfinches (Carduelis chloris). When wild-caught greenfinches are brought into captivity, some individuals damage their tail feathers against cage walls due to excited behaviour, while others retain their feathers in intact condition. We show that damage to tail feathers was associated with flapping flight movements and the frequency of such flapping bouts was individually consistent over 57. days. Birds with intact tails, i.e., relatively 'calm' individuals mounted stronger antibody response to a novel Brucella abortus antigen and their circulating phagocytes were capable of producing stronger oxidative burst in response to stimulation with bacterial lipopolysaccharide in vitro. As the behavioural trait was assessed 13-25. days before measuring immune responsiveness, our results demonstrate that individuals' coping styles with captivity predicted how these individuals would respond to forthcoming immune challenges. This is a novel evidence about covariation between immune responsiveness and a behavioural trait in a wild-caught animal. © 2011 Elsevier Inc.


  • Elin Sild
  • T. Sepp
  • P. Hõrak
External organisations
  • University of Tartu
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biological Sciences


  • Brucella abortus, Captivity, Carduelis chloris, Chemiluminescence response, Coping styles, Immunoecology, Locomotory behaviour, Passerine
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1349-1354
JournalBrain Behavior and Immunity
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographic note