Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

1-1-2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.S. in Biological Science

First Advisor

Susan L Balenger

Second Advisor

Peter Zee

Third Advisor

Christopher Leary

School

University of Mississippi

Relational Format

dissertation/thesis

Abstract

Parents can transmit pathogens to their offspring. Neonatal hosts are particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases, as they have immature adaptive immune systems at birth. In this study, I examine parental transmission of a common bacterial pathogen Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG) in wild eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) and its impact on nestling growth. By diagnosing infections in all family members, I confirmed that eastern bluebird nestlings can contract MG infections, and that infection was more common in older nestlings compared to adults and neonates. Furthermore, unlike in other avian hosts, MG infection does not significantly impact nestling body condition. In response to infection, eastern bluebird mothers synthesize and transfer MG-specific antibodies to eggs. Using serology testing, I examined antibody levels at multiple time points throughout the nestling period and developed an immune profile to calculate the half-life of maternal antibodies and evaluate the development of nestling immunity. I found that maternal antibodies degrade quickly post-hatching, with a calculated half-life of 3.4 days. Intrinsic antibody production is estimated to begin 8-11 days post-hatching. Mothers who possessed MG antibodies in circulation transmitted them to all of their nestlings, and those nestlings were in better body condition and had a higher pre-fledging body mass compared to those lacking the antibody. Pre-fledging mass has been linked to first year survival and reproductive success in many other songbird species. Thus, my results suggest that while short in duration, maternal antibodies may have lasting impacts on offspring post-fledging success. Overall, my study provides insight into parent-offspring disease transmission and evaluates neonatal host responses in a naturally-occurring host-pathogen system.

Available for download on Tuesday, August 31, 2021

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