Terrestrial Vertebrate Ecology - Original Paper

Oecologia

, Volume 161, Issue 4, pp 849-855

Aromatic plants in nests of the blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus protect chicks from bacteria

  • Adèle MenneratAffiliated withCentre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, CNRS, UMR 5175Department of Biology, University of Bergen Email author 
  • , Pascal MirleauAffiliated withEDB (Laboratoire Évolution et Diversité Biologique), Université de Toulouse UPS, UMR 5174EDB (Laboratoire Évolution et Diversité Biologique), CNRSInstitut Méditerranéen d’Ecologie et de Paléoécologie, UMR CNRS 6116, UMR IRD 193, Université Paul Cezanne Aix-Marseille III
  • , Jacques BlondelAffiliated withCentre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, CNRS, UMR 5175
  • , Philippe PerretAffiliated withCentre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, CNRS, UMR 5175
  • , Marcel M. LambrechtsAffiliated withCentre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, CNRS, UMR 5175
  • , Philipp HeebAffiliated withEDB (Laboratoire Évolution et Diversité Biologique), Université de Toulouse UPS, UMR 5174EDB (Laboratoire Évolution et Diversité Biologique), CNRS

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Abstract

Several bird species add fresh fragments of plants which are rich in volatile secondary compounds to their nests. It has been suggested, although never tested, that birds use fresh plants to limit the growth of nest microorganisms. On Corsica, blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) incorporate fresh fragments of aromatic plants into their nests. These plants do not reduce infestation by nest ectoparasites, but have been shown to improve growth and condition of chicks at fledging. To understand the mechanisms underlying such benefits, we experimentally tested the effects of these plants on the bacteria living on blue tits. Aromatic plants significantly affected the structure of bacterial communities, in particular reducing bacterial richness on nestlings. In addition, in this population where there is a strong association between bacterial density and infestation by blood-sucking Protocalliphora blow fly larvae, these plants reduced bacterial density on the most infested chicks. Aromatic plants had no significant effect on the bacteria living on adult blue tits. This study provides the first evidence that fresh plants brought to the nests by adult birds limit bacterial richness and density on their chicks.

Keywords

Nest greenery Aromatic plants Bacterial communities Cyanistes caeruleus Protocalliphora sp.