In seasonally fluctuating environments, timing of reproduction is a crucial determinant of fitness. Studies of birds show that late breeding attempts generally result in offspring of lower reproductive value, with lower recruitment and long-term survival prospects. Several proximate mechanisms, including a seasonal decline of immune system functioning, may lead to a seasonal decline of offspring fitness. We investigated seasonal variation in offspring quality by subjecting first- and second-brood chicks of a sexually size dimorphic species, the European starling Sturnus vulgaris, to an immune challenge with a bacterial endotoxin (LPS), and evaluated their growth and physiological response in terms of total plasma antioxidant capacity (TAC), concentration of reactive oxygen metabolites and hematocrit. LPS challenge did not affect chick growth or oxidative status. However, hematocrit of second-brood chicks was higher in LPS chicks compared to controls. Body mass halfway through the rearing period (days 8–9 post-hatching),TAC and hematocrit were lower among second- vs. first-brood chicks. Interestingly, sexual dimorphism in body mass at days 8–9 post-hatching markedly differed between broods, first-brood males being 4.7% and second-brood males 22.7% heavier than their sisters, respectively. Pre-fledging mortality occurred among second-brood chicks only and was strongly female-biased. Our findings suggest that starling chicks, even if in poor conditions, are little affected by a bacterial challenge, at least in the short-term. Moreover, our study indicates that sex differences in body size, possibly mediated by sex-specific maternal investment in egg size, may heavily impact on prefledging survival in a different way in the course of the breeding season, resulting in sex-specific seasonal decline of offspring fitness. Finally, we suggest that levels of circulating antioxidants should be regarded among the proximate causes of the association between timing of fledging and long-term survival in avian species.
File in questo prodotto:
Non ci sono file associati a questo prodotto.