, Volume 179, Issue 1, pp 29–41 | Cite as

Nest-dwelling ectoparasites reduce antioxidant defences in females and nestlings of a passerine: a field experiment

  • Jimena López-Arrabé
  • Alejandro Cantarero
  • Lorenzo Pérez-Rodríguez
  • Antonio Palma
  • Carlos Alonso-Alvarez
  • Sonia González-Braojos
  • Juan Moreno
Physiological ecology - Original research


Ectoparasites may imply a cost in terms of oxidative stress provoked by inflammatory responses in hosts. Ectoparasites may also result in costs for nestlings and brooding females because of the direct loss of nutrients and reduced metabolic capacity resulting from parasite feeding activities. These responses may involve the production of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species that may induce oxidative damage in host tissues. Our goal was to examine the effect of ectoparasites in terms of oxidative stress for nestlings and adult females in a population of pied flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca. We manipulated the entire nest ectoparasite community by reducing ectoparasite loads in some nests through a heating treatment and compared them with a control group of nests with natural loads. A marker of total antioxidant capacity (TAS) in plasma and total levels of glutathione (tGSH) in red blood cells as well as a marker of oxidative damage in plasma lipids (malondialdehyde; MDA) were assessed simultaneously. Levels of tGSH were higher in heat-treated nests than in controls for both females and nestlings. Higher TAS values were observed in females from heat-treated nests. In nestlings there was a negative correlation between TAS and MDA. Our study supports the hypothesis that ectoparasites expose cavity-nesting birds to an oxidative challenge. This could be paid for in the long term, ultimately compromising individual fitness.


Antioxidant status Glutathione Malondialdehyde Oxidative stress Pied flycatcher 



This study was financed by project CGL2010-19233-C03-02 to J. M. from the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (MICINN). A. C. was supported by a FPU grant from the Ministerio de Educación, Ciencia y Deporte (MECD) and S. G.-B. and J. L.-A. by FPI grants from MICINN. L. P.-R. was supported by a postdoctoral contract from the Spanish Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (MINECO), through the Severo Ochoa Programme for Centres of Excellence in R&D&I (SEV-2012-0262). Permissions for handling birds were provided by the Consejería de Medio Ambiente de Castilla y León, and J. Donés and M. Redondo of the Centro Montes de Valsaín allowed us to work in the study area. We thank E. Jiménez-Vaquero, S. Merino and E. Pérez-Badás for collaboration in the field. We are also grateful to Jonathan D. Blount for initial advice on the analysis of MDA levels. This study is a contribution to the research developed at the El Ventorrillo field station. The experiments comply with current Spanish laws, and grant holder and field researchers were officially licensed for animal manipulation following current EU regulations on animal manipulation (authorization types C and B).


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dpto. Ecología EvolutivaMuseo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales—CSICMadridSpain
  2. 2.Dpto. Ecología EvolutivaEstación Biológica de Doñana—CSICSevilleSpain

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