Immune function is related to adult carotenoid and bile pigment levels, but not to dietary carotenoid access during development, in female mallard ducks

Michael W. Butler, Kevin McGraw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Immune function can be modulated by multiple physiological factors, including nutrition and reproductive state. Because these factors can vary throughout an individual's lifetime as a result of environmental conditions (affecting nutrition) or life-history stage (e.g. entering the adult reproduction stage), we must carefully examine the degree to which developmental versus adult conditions shape performance of the immune system. We investigated how variation in dietary access to carotenoid pigments - a class of molecules with immunostimulatory properties that females deposit into egg yolks - during three different developmental time points affected adult immunological and reproductive traits in female mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos). In males and females of other avian species, carotenoid access during development affects carotenoid assimilation ability, adult sexual ornamentation and immune function, while carotenoid access during adulthood can increase immune response and reproductive investment (e.g. egg-laying capacity, biliverdin deposition in eggshells). We failed to detect effects of developmental carotenoid supplementation on adult immune function [phytohemagglutinin-induced cutaneous immune response, antibody production in response to the novel antigen keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH), or oxidative burst, assessed by changes in circulating nitric oxide levels], carotenoid-pigmented beak coloration, ovarian development, circulating carotenoid levels or concentration of bile pigments in the gall bladder. However, we did uncover positive relationships between circulating carotenoid levels during adulthood and KLH-specific antibody production, and a negative relationship between biliverdin concentration in bile and KLH-specific antibody production. These results are consistent with the view that adult physiological parameters better predict current immune function than do developmental conditions, and highlight a possible, previously unstudied relationship between biliverdin and immune system performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2632-2640
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2013


  • Anas platyrhynchos
  • Biliverdin
  • Carotenoids
  • Developmental plasticity
  • Follicular development
  • Immunity
  • Nitric oxide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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