Induced maternal response to the Lyme disease spirochaete Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato in a colonial seabird, the kittiwake Rissa tridactyla

Julien Gasparini, Karen D. McCoy, Claudy Haussy, Torkild Tveraa, Thierry Boulinier

Abstract

Mothers are predicted to invest in their offspring depending on the quality of their mate, their opportunity to invest in future reproduction and the characteristics of the habitat in which their offspring will be born. Recent studies have suggested a transfer of maternal immunity to offspring as an induced response to the local presence of parasites in the environment, but evidence has been indirect. Here, we show the presence of antibodies against the Lyme disease agent Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato, a spirochaete transmitted by the seabird tick Ixodes uriae, in the eggs of kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla. We report higher prevalence of antibodies against Borrelia in eggs from breeding areas with higher prevalence and abundance of ticks. Further, high repeatabilities of antibody–positive eggs within clutches and between first and replacement clutches show that, within a breeding season, females differ consistently with respect to the expression of this induced maternal response. Our results suggest that mothers can alter investment in their young depending on local conditions. Such maternal effects clearly have implications for the ecology and evolution of host–parasite interactions.