Homberger, B., S. Jenni-Eiermann, A. Roulin & L. Jenni (2013)

The impact of pre- and post-natal contexts on immunity, glucocorticoids and oxidative stress resistance in wild and domesticated grey partridges.

Further information

Funct. Ecol. 27 (4): 1042–1054



1. Genetic background, prenatal and post-natal early-life conditions influence the development of interconnected physiological systems and thereby shape the phenotype. Certain combinations of genotypes and pre- and post-natal conditions may provide higher fitness in a specific environmental context.
2. Here, we investigated how grey partridges Perdix perdix of two strains (wild and domesticated) cope physiologically with pre- and post-natal predictable vs. unpredictable food supply. Food unpredictability occurs frequently in wild environments and requires physiological and behavioural adjustments.
3. Well-orchestrated and efficient physiological systems are presumably more vital in a wild environment as compared to captivity. We thus predicted that wild-strain grey partridges have a stronger immunity, glucocorticoid (GC) stress response and oxidative stress resistance (OSR) than domesticated birds, which have undergone adaptations to captivity. We also predicted that wild-strain birds react more strongly to environmental stimuli and, when faced with harsh prenatal conditions, are better able to prepare their offspring for similarly poor post-natal conditions than birds of domesticated origin.
4. We found that wild-strain offspring were physiologically better prepared for stressful situations as compared to the domesticated strain. They had a high GC stress response and a high OSR when kept under predictable food supply. Wild-strain parents reacted to prenatal unpredictable food supply by lowering their offspring’s GC stress response, which potentially lowered GC-induced oxidative pressure. No such pattern was evident in the domesticated birds.
5. Irrespective of strain and prenatal feeding scheme, post-natal unpredictable food supply boosted immune indices, and GC stress response was negatively related to antibody response in females and to mitochondrial superoxide production.
6. Wild-strain grey partridge showed fitness-relevant physiological advantages and appeared to prepare their offspring for the prospective environment. Negative relationships between GC stress response, immunity and oxidative indices imply a pivotal role of an organism’s oxidative balance and support the importance of considering multiple physiological systems simultaneously.
Keywords: animal re-introduction, domestication effects, glucocorticoid stress response, immunocompetence, maternal effects, mitochondrial superoxide production, oxidative balance, oxidative stress resistance, physiological networks, trade-off