No effect of blood sampling or phytohaemagglutinin injection on postfledging survival in a wild songbird


The injection of phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) and sampling of blood are widely used in studies of wild vertebrates to assess components of immune and endocrine function and health state and to obtain genetic material. Despite the pervasive use of these techniques in the life sciences, their potential effects on survival are rarely considered. For example, whether injection of the immunogen PHA into body parts critical for locomotion (e.g., the prepatagium, or wing web, in birds) affects survival has not been tested. Here, we test whether injection of PHA into the wing web and blood sampling from nestling house wrens affects their subsequent recruitment and survival as breeding adults. Capture-mark-recapture analysis on a large sample of young (N = 20,152 fledglings from 3959 broods) treated over 10 years revealed that neither PHA injection nor blood sampling affected individual survival and detection probability. Recruitment as a breeder varied among years, but this variation was not attributable to sampling effort, or the percent of all adults identified at the nest during a given year. Variation in the percent of adults identified was primarily attributable to the effect of nest depredation on our ability to capture nesting pairs. Our results indicating lack of an effect of blood sampling and immune stimulation on survival are encouraging, but we recommend further work to assess the potential negative effects of all commonly used techniques on the survival of study subjects in the wild, including the potential costs associated with mounting various immunological responses.

Publication Title

Ecology and Evolution