Affiliative interactions in northern bald ibis

PLOS ONE

Abstract

The reproductive season is energetically costly as revealed by elevated glucocorticoid concentrations, constrained immune functions and an increased risk of infections. Social allies and affiliative interactions may buffer physiological stress responses and thereby alleviate associated effects. In the present study, we investigated the seasonal differences of immune reactive corticosterone metabolite concentrations, endoparasite burden (nematode eggs and coccidian oocysts) and affiliative interactions in northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita), a critically endangered bird. In total, 43 individually marked focal animals from a free-ranging colony were investigated. The analyses included a description of initiated and received affiliative interactions, pair bond status as well as seasonal patterns of hormone and endoparasite levels. During the reproductive season, droppings contained parasite eggs more often and corticosterone metabolite levels were higher as compared to the period after reproduction. The excretion rate of endoparasite products was lower in paired individuals than in unpaired ones, but paired animals exhibited higher corticosterone metabolite concentrations than unpaired individuals. Furthermore, paired individuals initiated affiliative behaviour more frequently than unpaired ones. This suggests that the reproductive season influences the excretion patterns of endoparasite products and corticosterone metabolites and that affiliative interactions between pair partners may positively affect endoparasite burden during periods of elevated glucocorticoid levels. Being embedded in a pair bond may have a positive impact on individual immune system and parasite resistance.

Puehringer-Sturmayr, V., Wascher, C. A. F., Loretto, M-C., Palme, R., Stoewe, M., Kotrschal, K., & Frigerio, D. (2018). Seasonal differences of corticosterone metabolite concentrations and parasite burden in northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita): The role of affiliative interactions. PLOS ONE, 13(1), [e0191441]. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0191441