Leucocyte profiles and corticosterone in chicks of southern rockhopper penguins
Noordwijk, van, Hendrika J.
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Journal of comparative physiology: B: biochemical, systematic and environmental physiology
, p. 83-90
University of Antwerp
The immune system is essential for health and survival of vertebrates, yet still little is known about the ontogeny of the immune system in wild birds. The southern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome) is a semi-altricial seabird with a long developmental period and reversed hatching asynchrony, favouring the survival of B-chicks. We compared leucocyte counts and baseline corticosterone levels of southern rockhopper penguin chicks under different preconditions such as sex and origin from an A- or B-egg from 4 to 51 days of age. We conducted an experiment to compare leucocyte profiles and baseline corticosterone levels in A- and B-chicks in single-egg clutches as well as in B-chicks from normal two egg-clutches (one A- and one B-egg). None of these treatments influenced leucocyte counts or corticosterone levels, indicating a similar investment in the immune system. Our main finding was an increase of leucocytes/10,000 erythrocytes with age, which was mainly caused by an increase in lymphocyte numbers. This suggests differential investment into acquired immunity at this stage of development. As the granulocyte/lymphocyte (G/L) ratio did not change with age or body condition, G/L ratios seem not to reflect stress caused by poor provisioning of penguin chicks. This was also reinforced by the decrease of plasma corticosterone levels with age. Body condition was negatively correlated with monocyte numbers, suggesting a poorer health status of penguin chicks in poorer body condition. Yet, there was no link between body condition and other leucocyte parameters, indicating that chicks in a good body condition did not additionally invest into their immune system.