, Volume 66, Issue 1, pp 107-119
Date: 20 Sep 2011

The interspecific relationship between prevalence of blood parasites and sexual traits in birds when considering recent methodological advancements

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Hamilton and Zuk (Science 218:384–387, 1982) supported their influential hypothesis of parasite-mediated sexual selection based on a positive interspecific correlation between the prevalence of blood parasites and the expression of male displays in birds. However, subsequent studies provided mixed support for this relationship after considering several confounding factors. Here, we revisit this fundamental prediction by refining the analyses through implementation of recent methodological advancements. First, we distinguish between prevalence data obtained through microscopic and molecular tools, as PCR-based detection methods may be more sensitive for detecting infection. Second, we use quantitative estimates of both acoustic and visual signals of males, in which color measurements adopt the perspective of avian vision. Third, applying modern phylogenetic comparative approaches, we correct for phylogenetic inertia as well as heterogeneity in sampling effort. Fourth, we distinguish between prevalence transition states, as we compare species with and without evidence of infection and also monitor changes in parasite prevalence only in species in which blood parasites are detected. We show that given the considerable variation among populations, the repeatability of prevalence at the within-species level is modest. We failed to detect a strong interspecific relationship between the prevalence of blood parasites and sexual traits. However, we found that an evolutionary increase from zero to non-zero prevalence is likely to be accompanied by an increase in trait expression in males, but further increase from non-zero prevalence to a higher level of infection tends to be associated with a reduced degree of trait elaboration. Our results provide some support to the Hamilton and Zuk hypothesis, but the relationship between blood parasites and male displays varies among traits depending on degree of infection.

Communicated by S. Pruett-Jones