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The past 30 years of immunological research have revealed much about the proximate mechanisms of maternal antibody transmission and utilization, but have not adequately addressed how these issues are related to evolutionary and ecological theory. Much remains to be learned about individual differences within a species in maternal antibody transmission as well as differences among species in transmission or utilization of antibodies. Similarly, maternal-effects theory has generally neglected the mechanisms by which mothers influence offspring phenotype. Although the environmental cues that generate maternal effects and the consequent effects for offspring phenotype are often well characterized, the intermediary physiological and developmental steps through which the maternal effect is transmitted are generally unknown. Integration of the proximate mechanisms of maternal antibody transmission with evolutionary theory on maternal effects affords an important opportunity to unite mechanism and process by focusing on the links between genetics, environment and physiology, with the ultimate goal of explaining differences among individuals and species in the transfer of immune function from one generation to the next.