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Exposure to artificial light at night alters innate immune response in wild great tit nestlings

Citation

Ziegler, Ann-Kathrin et al. (2021), Exposure to artificial light at night alters innate immune response in wild great tit nestlings, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.wpzgmsbn2

Abstract

The large-scale impact of urbanization on wildlife is rather well documented; however, the mechanisms underlying the effects of urban environments on animal physiology and behaviour are still poorly understood. Here, we focused on one major urban pollutant - artificial light at night (ALAN) - and its effects on the capacity to mount an innate immune response in wild great tit (Parus major) nestlings. Exposure to ALAN alters circadian rhythms of physiological processes, by disrupting the nocturnal production of the hormone melatonin. Nestlings were exposed to a light source emitting 3 lux for seven consecutive nights. Subsequently, nestlings were immune-challenged with a lipopolysaccharide injection, and we measured haptoglobin and nitric oxide levels pre- and post-injection. Both haptoglobin and nitric oxide are important markers for innate immune function. We found that ALAN exposure altered the innate immune response, with nestlings exposed to ALAN having lower haptoglobin and higher nitric oxide levels after the immune-challenge compared to dark-night nestlings. Unexpectedly, nitric oxide levels were overall, lower after the immune-challenge than before. These effects were probabbly mediated by melatonin, as ALAN-treated birds had on average 49% lower melatonin levels than the dark-night birds. ALAN exposure did not have any clear effects on nestling growth. This study provides a potential physiological mechanism underlying the documented differences in immune function between urban and rural birds observed in other studies. Moreover, it gives evidence that ALAN exposure affects nestling physiology, potentially causing long-term effects on physiology and behaviour, which ultimately can affect their fitness.

 

Funding

Crafoordska Stiftelsen

Estonian Research Competency Council, Award: IUT34-8, PUT653, PSG458