Mum is still looking after you: persistence of maternal antibodies in nestling Cory's Shearwaters

R. Garnier (Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, Montpellier, France) and colleagues, writing in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, have looked at the persistence of maternal antibodies during growth of nestling Cory's Shearwater Calonectris [diomedea ] borealis in the Canary Islands.

The paper's abstract follows:

"The evolution of different life-history strategies has been suggested as a major force constraining physiological mechanisms such as immunity.  In some long-lived oviparous species, a prolonged persistence of maternal antibodies in offspring could thus be expected in order to protect them over their long growth period.  Here, using an intergenerational vaccination design, we show that specific maternal antibodies can display an estimated half-life of 25 days post-hatching in the nestlings of a long-lived bird.  This temporal persistence is much longer than previously known for birds and it suggests specific properties in the regulation of IgY immunoglobulin catabolism in such a species.  We also show that maternal antibodies in the considered procellariiform species are functional as late as 20 days of age.  Using a modelling approach, we highlight that the potential impact of such effects on population viability could be important, notably when using vaccination for conservation.  These results have broad implications, from comparative immunology to evolutionary eco-epidemiology and conservation biology."

Cory's Shearwater.  Photograph by Paulo Catry


Garnier, R., Ramos, R.., Staszewski, V., Militão, T., Lobato, E., González-Solís, J. & Boulinier, T. 2012.  Maternal antibody persistence: a neglected life-history trait with implications from albatross conservation to comparative immunology.  Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279: 2033-2041.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 5 November 2012

The Agreement on the
Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

ACAP is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve listed albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations.

About ACAP

ACAP Secretariat

119 Macquarie St
Hobart TAS 7000

Tel: +61 3 6165 6674