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A Wilder View: Studying immune systems in birds

Posted at 9:00 PM, Jan 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 23:00:34-05

MISSOULA — Do female birds spend more time sick than their male counterparts? Or vice versa?

In all of the time we have spent studying birds; their behavior, relationships, and their origins -- very little research has been done on the differences between the immune systems of male and female birds. Until now.

So why is this important to study? This is because scientists use this information to gain insight into not only the present health of certain populations but the future size of the population as well.

Scientists have determined there is a notable difference between the health of male and female birds depending on the time of year. They found the main reason for a shift in male and female immune system is stress.

Males will have a higher chance of lower immunity during egg production - this is usually caused by the exhaustion of mating displays while females will have it lowered during egg incubation.

Outside factors could also be a cause for the shift in immunity -- even something like the amount of light in the day could have an effect.

Knowing the reasons behind this could help scientists predict the ebbs and flows of population numbers and potentially better protect species from extinction.