If immune functions confer obvious benefits to hosts, life-history theory assumes that they also induce costs, leading to trade-offs between immunity and other fitness components. However, whether substantial fitness costs are associated with immune systems in the wild is debatable, as numerous factors may influence the costs and benefits associated with immune activation. Here, we explore the survival cost of immune deployment in postfledging birds. We injected Eurasian collared dove nestlings (Streptopelia decaocto) with antigens from Escherichia coll, and examined whether this immune challenge affected survival after fledging. To assess survival, birds were fitted with radlotags and the fate of each individual was monitored regularly. Our results show that mimicking a bacterial infection in nestlings lowered their survival prospects after fledging, in comparison to controls. The main identified cause of mortality (by examination of dead birds) was presumed to be predation. This study provides experimental evidence that immune activation may entail dramatic survival costs in a free-ranging vertebrate, and emphasizes the potential role that environmental factors such as predation may play in this interaction.
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