Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 66, Issue 1, pp 107–119

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


    • Department of Evolutionary EcologyEstacion Biologica de Doñana–CSIC
  • Anders Pape Møller
    • Laboratoire d’Ecologie, Systematique et EvolutionUniversité Paris–Sud
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00265-011-1259-2

Cite this article as:
Garamszegi, L.Z. & Møller, A.P. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2012) 66: 107. doi:10.1007/s00265-011-1259-2


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.


Anopheles Host–parasite co-evolution Immune defense Method sensitivity Phylogenetic generalized least square models (PGLS) Vector-borne infectious disease Weighted regression

Supplementary material

265_2011_1259_MOESM1_ESM.xls (96 kb)
Table S1 Comparative data of birds used to test for the relationship between the expression of sexual characters and prevalence of four blood parasite genera. Sample sizes (number of birds screened and found infected) are given separately for microscopy- and PCR-based detection methods (XLS 96 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011