, Volume 144, Issue 2, pp 289-298
Date: 15 Apr 2005

Interactions between population processes in a cyclic species: parasites reduce autumn territorial behaviour of male red grouse

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The causes of population cycles fascinate and perplex ecologist. Most work have focused on single processes, whether extrinsic or intrinsic, more rarely on how different processes might interact to cause or mould the unstable population dynamics. In red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus), two causal mechanisms have been supported: territorial behaviour (changes in autumn aggressiveness) and parasites (parasite induced reduction in fecundity). Here, we report on how these two regulatory processes might interact, by testing whether the parasite suspected to cause the grouse cycles, the nematode Trichostrongylus tenuis, reduces male autumn territorial behaviour. We either treated males with an anthelmintic, to remove parasites (dosed or D-males), or challenged them with infective T. tenuis larvae, to increase parasite intensity (challenged or C-males). We first show that dosing was effective in removing T. tenuis parasites, while parasite intensities increased in challenged birds during the autumn. Because old males initially had more parasites than young males, the treatments generated greater differences in parasite intensity in old than in young males. We also show that various aspects of territorial behaviour (increase in testosterone-dependent comb size in autumn, territorial call rate, likelihood of winning territorial interactions and over-winter survival) were significantly higher in dosed than in challenged males, but in old birds only. Our data thus supported the hypothesis that parasites reduce male aggressiveness during the autumn territorial contests, and could thereby influence recruitment. Our results also highlight that the territorial behaviour of young males, which have fewer parasites, is not as limited by parasites as that of old, previously territorial males. We discuss the implications of these findings for our understanding of the processes regulating red grouse populations and causing their complex, unstable population dynamics.

Communicated by Roland Brandl