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

Daniel Nettle*, Clare Andrews, Sophie Reichert, Tom Bedford, Annie Gott, Craig Parker, Claire Kolenda, Carmen Martin-Ruiz, Pat Monaghan, Melissa Bateson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8138-8148
Number of pages11
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016
Externally publishedYes

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