Indexed on: 30 Mar '06Published on: 30 Mar '06Published in: Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
In cooperatively breeding species, helpers may contribute to the success of the brood by increasing the number of independent offspring, but also, they may affect offspring condition and, hence, their survival and recruitment into the breeding population. This second type of benefits is rarely included in theoretical models or assessed in field studies. Immune response is a good proxy of individual quality and fitness, and there is good evidence that the performance of the immune system of chicks during the nestling phase is related to their chances of survival and future reproduction. However, no study has so far explored whether helpers at the nest might contribute to enhance immune functioning of nestlings in species with a cooperative breeding system. Here we investigate this issue in the azure-winged magpie (Cyanopica cyanus) and found for the first time a positive correlation between the number of helpers at nest and the cell-mediated immune response of nestlings. This effect was not explained by a general improvement of body condition of chicks because it was independent of individual variation in body mass or tarsus length. Our results suggest that helping can have subtle effects on the quality of offspring that may influence their survival and future reproduction.