The role of maternally-transferred antibodies in maternal performance in red deer

Julie Gauzere*, Craig A Walling, Joel Pick, Kathryn Watt, Penny Jack, Alison Morris, Sean Morris, Josephine M Pemberton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Maternal effects are ubiquitous. Yet, the pathways through which maternal effects occur in wild mammals remain largely unknown. We hypothesise that maternal immune transfer is a key mechanism by which mothers can affect their offspring fitness, and that individual variation in maternally-derived antibodies mainly depends on a mother’s characteristics and the environmental conditions she experiences. To test this, we assayed six colostrum-derived anti bodies in the plasma of 1,447 neonates in a wild red deer population. Neonatal antibody levels were mainly affected by maternal genes, environmental variation, and costs of prior reproductive investment. We found consistent heterogeneity in maternal performance across traits, with mothers producing the heaviest calves also having calves with more antibodies. Unexpectedly, antibody levels were not associated with calf survival. We provide a unique example of how evolutionary theory on maternal effects can be used to gain insight into the causes of maternal effects in wild populations.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalEcology Letters
Early online date10 Jul 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Jul 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • maternal immune transfer
  • maternal effects
  • maternal investments
  • trade-off
  • individual quality
  • ecological immunology
  • viability selection
  • natural population
  • mammal ecology


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