, Volume 171, Issue 4, pp 853–861 | Cite as

Malaria infection and feather growth rate predict reproductive success in house martins

  • Alfonso MarzalEmail author
  • Maribel Reviriego
  • Ignacio G. Hermosell
  • Javier Balbontín
  • Staffan Bensch
  • Carmen Relinque
  • Laura Rodríguez
  • Luz Garcia-Longoria
  • Florentino de Lope
Population ecology - Original research


Carry-over effects take place when events occurring in one season influence individual performance in a subsequent season. Blood parasites (e.g. Plasmodium and Haemoproteus) have strong negative effects on the body condition of their hosts and could slow the rate of feather growth on the wintering grounds. In turn, these winter moult costs could reduce reproductive success in the following breeding season. In house martins Delichon urbica captured and studied at a breeding site in Europe, we used ptilochronology to measure growth rate of tail feathers moulted on the winter range in Africa, and assessed infection status of blood parasites transmitted on the wintering grounds. We found a negative association between haemosporidian parasite infection status and inferred growth rate of tail feathers. A low feather growth rate and blood parasite infections were related to a delay in laying date in their European breeding quarters. In addition, clutch size and the number of fledglings were negatively related to a delayed laying date and blood parasite infection. These results stress the importance of blood parasites and feather growth rate as potentially mechanisms driving carry-over effects to explain fitness differences in wild populations of migratory birds.


Carry-over effects Delichon urbica Haemoproteus Host–parasite interaction Plasmodium 



We thank to W. Douglas Robinson and two anonymous referees for their constructive comments on the manuscript. This study was funded by research projects of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science (CGL2009-08976), Junta of Extremadura (PRI08A116) and University of Extremadura (A7-26). A.M., I.G.H. and L.G.L. were supported by grants from Spanish Ministry of Education and Science (JC2011-0405, BES-2007-15549 and BES-2010-030295, respectively). S.B. was supported by a grant from the Swedish Research Council (621-2007-5193). L.R. was supported by a collaboration grant of UEx. All the experiments comply with the current laws of Spain, where the experiments were performed.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alfonso Marzal
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Maribel Reviriego
    • 1
  • Ignacio G. Hermosell
    • 1
  • Javier Balbontín
    • 1
    • 3
  • Staffan Bensch
    • 2
  • Carmen Relinque
    • 1
  • Laura Rodríguez
    • 1
  • Luz Garcia-Longoria
    • 1
  • Florentino de Lope
    • 1
  1. 1.Departamento de Biología AnimalUniversidad de ExtremaduraBadajozSpain
  2. 2.Department of BiologyLund UniversityLundSweden
  3. 3.Departamento de Zoología, Facultad de BiologíaUniversidad de SevillaSevillaSpain

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