Ectoparasite load is linked to ontogeny and cell-mediated immunity in an avian host system with pronounced hatching asynchrony

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2008
Authors:R. Vaclav, Calero-Torralbo, M. A., Valera, F.
Journal:Biological Journal of the Linnean Society
Date Published:July
Type of Article:Article
ISBN Number:0024-4066
Accession Number:ZOOREC:ZOOR14409054805
Keywords:Carnus hemapterus, Europe

Several contrasting hypotheses have been proposed to account for host age-biased parasite distribution, with some of them suggesting a key role of ectoparasites in the evolution and maintenance of weight hierarchies within broods. We examined parasite distribution among individual hosts across the whole period of host exposure to the parasite in a host system that shows distinct within-brood differences in age and age-related mortality. By contrast to previous hypotheses, we found that the abundance of a haematophagous, mobile ectoparasite Carnus haemapterus on nestling European rollers (Coracias garrulus) was highest approximately during the mid-nestling stage of their host, coinciding with the inflection point of the host growth phase. Parasite load increased neither with absolute resource availability (i.e. body size), nor body condition index. By contrast to previous evidence, higher parasite load under natural conditions was associated with a stronger cell-mediated immune response. However, this association was moderated by low parasite densities, as well as a better brood body condition index. Overall, although we revealed remarkable host ontogenetic effects on parasite distribution, the present study suggests that a highly mobile ectoparasite generally prefers healthier hosts. We propose that, in host systems with a marked asynchrony of hatching and background mortality within the brood, parasites favour persistence rather than nutritional attractiveness of the host. (C) 2008 The Linnean Society of London.

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