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Bacteria on nestling skin in relation to growth in pied flycatchers

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The association between skin bacterial communities and nestling growth is poorly understood. We estimated the abundance of heterotrophic bacteria on skin of nestlings and their association with growth in the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca. At two different nestling ages, we swabbed a delimited area of the naked belly skin of nestlings and measured them. Skin bacterial loads on day 13, but not on day 7, were positively associated with brood size and with nestling wing length. Larger broods develop in less hygienic conditions, which may stimulate bacterial growth. Skin bacteria may favor wing feather growth through competition with harmful bacteria, or faster feather growth may facilitate bacterial growth through the accumulation of remains on the skin surrounding growing feathers.


Das verhältnis zwischen hautbakterien und wachstum bei nestlingen des trauerschnäppers

Die Zusammenhänge zwischen Hautbakteriengemeinschaften und dem Wachstum von Nestlingen sind bisher kaum bekannt. Wir bestimmten die Häufigkeit heterotropher Bakterien auf der Haut von Nestlingen und deren Verbindung mit dem Wachstum bei Trauerschnäppern Ficedula hypoleuca. Dazu wurden die Nestlinge in zwei verschiedenen Altersstadien gemessen und gleichzeitig ein Abstrich von einer definierten Stelle der nackten Bauchhaut genommen. Die Besiedlung der Haut mit Bakterien am 13., nicht jedoch am 7. Lebenstag, zeigte einen positiven Zusammenhang mit der Brutgröße sowie mit der Flügellänge der Nestlinge. Größere Bruten entwickeln sich unter weniger hygienischen Bedingungen, was das Bakterienwachstum begünstigen könnte. Hautbakterien könnten durch Konkurrenz mit schädlichen Bakterien das Wachstum der Schwungfedern begünstigen; alternativ könnte ein schnelleres Federwachstum durch die Ansammlung von Hautresten rund um wachsende Federn die Bakterienvermehrung fördern.

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This study was financed by projects CGL2007-6125 and CGL2010-19233-C03-02 to JM from Spanish MICINN. SG-B and AC were supported by FPI and FPU grants from MICINN and MECD, respectively, and RR-d-C was supported by a JAE-CSIC grant. We were legally authorized to ring and measure nestlings by Consejería de Medio Ambiente de Castilla y León and by J. Donés, Director of “Centro Montes de Valsaín” to work in the study area. We thank S. Merino and J. Rivero-de Aguilar for collaboration in the field. We thank the group DICM-VISAVET for their help with laboratory work. This paper is a result of the agreement between JM and VISAVET-UCM.

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Correspondence to Sonia González-Braojos.

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Communicated by K. C. Klasing.

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González-Braojos, S., Vela, A.I., Ruiz-de-Castañeda, R. et al. Bacteria on nestling skin in relation to growth in pied flycatchers. J Ornithol 156, 327–330 (2015).

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