, Volume 126, Issue 2, pp 193-200

Sex-specific associations between reproductive output and hematozoan parasites of American kestrels

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Parasites have the potential to decrease reproductive output of hosts by competing for nutrients or forcing hosts to invest in immune function. Conversely, reproductive output may affect parasite loads if hosts allocate resources to reproduction such that allocation to immune function is compromised. Both hypotheses implicitly have a temporal component, so we sampled parasites both before and after egg laying to examine the relationship between reproductive output (indexed using a combined measure of clutch size, egg volume, and initiation date) and blood parasite loads of American kestrels (Falco sparverius). Parasite loads measured prior to egg laying had no adverse effects on subsequent reproductive output. Females that previously had large reproductive outputs subsequently had lower parasite intensities than those whose outputs were smaller, suggesting that females were capable of allocating energy to both forming clutches and reducing parasite loads. Because male kestrels provide most of their mate's energetic needs before, during, and after egg laying, mate choice by females may have consequences for their parasite loads. Females choosing high-quality mates may not only have increased reproductive output, but may also obtain sufficient resources from their mates to enable them to reduce their parasite burdens. Males whose mates had large reproductive outputs were more likely to subsequently be parasitized and have more intense infections. For individual males sampled both before and after egg laying, those whose mates had larger reproductive outputs were also more likely to become parasitized, or remain parasitized, between sampling periods. Increased parasite loads of males may be one mechanism by which the costs of reproduction are paid.