Sex-biased terminal investment in offspring induced by maternal immune challenge in the house wren (Troglodytes aedon)


The reproductive costs associated with the upregulation of immunity have been well-documented and constitute a fundamental trade-off between reproduction and self-maintenance. However, recent experimental work suggests that parents may increase their reproductive effort following immunostimulation as a form of terminal parental investment as prospects for future reproduction decline. We tested the trade-off and terminal investment hypotheses in a wild population of house wrens (Troglodytes aedon) by challenging the immune system of breeding females with lipopolysaccharide, a potent but nonlethal antigen. Immunized females showed no evidence of reproductive costs; instead, they produced offspring of higher phenotypic quality, but in a sex-specific manner. Relative to control offspring, sons of immunized females had increased body mass and their sisters exhibited higher cutaneous immune responsiveness to phytohaemagglutinin injection, constituting an adaptive strategy of sex-biased allocation by immune-challenged females to enhance the reproductive value of their offspring. Thus, our results are consistent with the terminal investment hypothesis, and suggest that maternal immunization can induce pronounced transgenerational effects on offspring phenotypes. © 2012 The Royal Society.

Publication Title

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences