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Brood size moderates associations between relative size, telomere length, and immune development in European starling nestlings

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Daniel Nettle, Dr Clare Andrews, Thomas Bedford, Annie Gott, Dr Craig Parker, Claire Kolenda, Dr Carmen Martin-RuizORCiD, Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


For young birds in a nest, body size may have implications for other aspects of development such as telomere length and immune function. However, it is possible to predict associations in either direction. On the one hand, there may be trade-offs between growth and telomere maintenance, and growth and investment in immune function, suggesting there will be negative correlations. On the other hand, relatively larger individuals might be advantaged in competition with their nest-mates, allowing them to garner more resources overall, leading to positive correlations. We studied development over the nestling period in 34 nests of wild European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris. Intrabrood competition is typically more intense in larger broods. Hence, we predicted that body size should become an increasingly positive predictor of telomere length and immune functioning as brood size increases. In partial support of our prediction, there were significant interactions between brood size and body size in predicting both erythrocyte telomere length change and plasma levels of the cytokine interleukin-6. The associations between body size and these outcomes went from negative in the smallest broods to positive in the largest. A further immune marker, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, showed no systematic patterning with body size or brood size. Our results confirm that the size to which a nestling grows is important for telomere dynamics and the development of the immune system, but the phenotypic associations are moderated by the competitive context.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Nettle D, Andrews C, Reichert S, Bedford T, Gott A, Parker C, Kolenda C, Martin-Ruiz C, Monaghan P, Bateson M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Ecology and Evolution

Year: 2016

Volume: 6

Issue: 22

Pages: 8138-8148

Online publication date: 17/10/2016

Acceptance date: 20/09/2016

Date deposited: 21/12/2016

ISSN (electronic): 2045-7758

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell


DOI: 10.1002/ece3.2551


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Funder referenceFunder name
AdG 268926ERC
BB/ J015091/1BBSRC
BB/ J016446/1BBSRC
AdG 666669ERC