Variation in postsampling treatment of avian blood affects ecophysiological interpretations
The fluid component of blood is widely used in ecophysiological investigations, including measures of immune function and stable isotope ecology. After blood collection, delayed separation of blood extracellular fluids from red blood cells is known to affect the concentration of a wide range of biochemical compounds in the resulting fluid, as does prevention of clotting (producing plasma) when compared with blood allowed to clot (producing serum). One challenge when investigating immune function and stable isotope ecology, therefore, is discriminating variation because of the effect of the biological factors of interest from potential methodological artefacts. This study assesses how seven widely used measures of immune function and stable isotope composition respond both to delayed separation of the cellular and fluid components and to the clotting of blood samples from two species of waterfowl. Samples that remained uncentrifuged for up to 12h did not differ from those centrifuged within 15min of sampling from the same individuals, indicating that samples from a wide range of field conditions may remain highly comparable. However, the outcome of three of the four immunological assays and two of the three isotopic analyses was highly dependent on the type of fluid, with higher immunological activity and higher relative concentrations of heavy carbon and total nitrogen in plasma compared to serum. Researchers interested in immune function and stable isotope ecology may obtain the most useful results by ensuring that they use a single fluid type in their investigations.