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Effects of forest patch size on physiological stress and immunocompetence in an area-sensitive passerine, the Eurasian treecreeper (Certhia familiaris): an experiment

Petri Suorsa, Heikki Helle, Vesa Koivunen, Esa Huhta, Ari Nikula, Harri Hakkarainen

Abstract

We manipulated the primary brood size of Eurasian treecreepers (Certhia familiaris) breeding in different sized forest patches (0.5–12.8 ha) in moderately fragmented landscapes. We examined the effects of brood size manipulation (reduced, control, enlarged) and forest patch size on physiological stress (heterophil–lymphocyte ratios; H/L), body condition and cell–mediated immunocompetence (phytohaemagglutinin test). Nestlings' H/L ratios were negatively related to forest patch area in control and enlarged broods, whereas no effects were found in reduced broods. The effects of forest patch area were strongest in enlarged broods, which had, in general, twofold higher H/L ratios than control and reduced broods. The elevated H/L ratios were positively related to nestling mortality and negatively correlated with body–condition indices suggesting that the origin of stress in nestlings was mainly nutritional. Cell–mediated immunity of nestlings was not related to brood manipulation or to forest patch size. Also, the H/L ratios of adults were not related to brood manipulation or forest patch size. In addition, parental H/L ratios and body condition were not related to nestling H/L ratios. Our results suggest that during the breeding period the deleterious effects of habitat loss are seen explicitly in growing young.

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