, Volume 133, Issue 2, pp 139-145

Ectoparasites and reproductive trade-offs in the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)

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Parents are predicted to trade offspring number and quality against the costs of reproduction. In altricial birds, parasites can mediate these costs because intensity of parasitism may increase with parental effort. In addition, parasites may mediate a trade-off between offspring number and quality because nestlings in large broods may have reduced anti-parasite immune defence. In this study, we experimentally analysed the effect of brood size on infestation by an ectoparasitic mite in nests of barn swallows (Hirundo rustica). Nests with an enlarged brood had larger prevalence and intensity of infestation than those with a reduced brood. Importantly, each nestling in enlarged broods was exposed to a larger number of mites, even when measured on a per nestling basis, than in reduced broods. Nestlings in enlarged broods had smaller body mass and T-cell-mediated immune response compared to reduced broods. T-cell-mediated immune response and feather growth were negatively correlated with per nestling intensity of infestation in enlarged but not in reduced broods. The results suggest that nestlings in enlarged broods have depressed immunity leading to larger per nestling mite infestation. Hence, exposure to parasites of offspring and parents increases with brood size, and parasitism can thus mediate trade-offs between reproduction and number and quality of the progeny in the barn swallow.

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