Immune activation generates corticosterone-mediated terminal reproductive investment in a wild bird


Despite classical expectations of a trade-off between immune activity and reproduction, an emergent view suggests that individuals experiencing activation of their immune system actually increase reproductive effort and allocation to offspring as a form of terminal investment in response to reduced survival probability. However, the components and mechanisms of increased parental investment following immunostimulation are currently unknown. We hypothesize that increased glucocorticoid production following immunostimulation modulates the increase in reproductive effort that constitutes terminal investment. We activated the immune system of breeding female house wrens (Troglodytes aedon) with an immunogen and cross-fostered the eggs that they subsequently produced to separate prenatal and postnatal components of maternal investment. Cross-fostering revealed an increase in both pre- and postnatal allocation from immunostimulated females, which was confirmed by quantification of egg constituents and maternal provisioning behavior. The increase in maternal provisioning was mediated, at least in part, by increased corticosterone in these females. Offspring immune responsiveness was also enhanced through transgenerational immune priming via the egg. Thus, our results indicate that maternal immunostimulation induces transgenerational effects on offspring through both pre- and postnatal parental effects and support an important role for corticosterone in mediating parental investment.

Publication Title

American Naturalist