Maternally-derived anti-helminth antibodies predict offspring survival in a wild mammal

Alex Sparks, Adam D. Hayward, Kathryn Watt, Jill Pilkington, Josephine M Pemberton, Susan Johnston, Tom N McNeilly, Daniel H Nussey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The transfer of antibodies from mother to offspring provides crucial protection against infection to offspring during early life in humans and domestic and laboratory animals. However, few studies have tested the consequences of variation in maternal antibody transfer for offspring fitness in the wild. Further, separating the immunoprotective effects of antibodies from their association with nutritional resources provided by mothers is difficult. Here, we measured plasma levels of total and parasite-specific antibodies in neonatal (<10 days old) wild Soay sheep over 25 years to quantify variation in maternal antibody transfer and test its association with offspring survival. Maternal antibody transfer was predicted by maternal age and previous antibody responses, and was consistent within mothers across years. Neonatal total IgG antibody levels were positively related to early growth, suggesting they reflected nutritional transfer. Neonatal parasite-specific IgG levels positively predicted first year survival, independent of lamb weight, total IgG levels and subsequent lamb parasite-specific antibody levels. This relationship was partly mediated via an indirect negative association with parasite burden. We show that among-female variation in maternal antibody transfer can have long-term effects on offspring growth, parasite burden and fitness in the wild, and is likely to impact naturally-occurring host-parasite dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20201931
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Issue number1939
Early online date25 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2020

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • maternal antibodies
  • teladorsagia circumcincta
  • immunoglobulin
  • soay sheep
  • maternal effects
  • IgG


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