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Housekeeping by lodgers: the importance of bird nest fauna on offspring condition

Abstract

Bird nests are designed to contain and protect parents, eggs and nestlings and to facilitate optimal safety and climatic conditions from egg-laying to fledging offspring. Bird nests also provide optimal conditions for a rich and diverse community of mainly invertebrates, who use nests as a foraging site, shelter, hiding place and reproduction and overwintering site. So far, no study has experimentally examined the impact of other nest inhabitants, except for parasites, on nestling development. The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of a saprophagous fly larvae Fannia spp. on nestling European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster). We hypothesize that, if Fannia spp. larvae improve nest sanitation due to their detritivorous habits, increased larvae abundance would result in improved chick growth and health. Thus, to investigate the impact of Fannia spp. larvae on nestling Bee-eaters, we experimentally manipulated their abundance during the early nestling period and determined parameters indicative for nestling body condition and health. The experiment confirmed our prediction and revealed that increasing the number of saprophagous fly larvae had a positive effect on offspring condition. We suggest that bird nest fauna other than parasites might be as important and could be used as a model for ecosystem analyses. Bird nests usually constitute small, temporary ecosystems, which could facilitate investigation of aspects of ecosystem functioning.

Zusammenfassung

Die Bedeutung der Nestfauna für die Jungenkondition Europäischer Bienenfresser ( Merops apiaster )

Die Aufgabe von Vogelnestern ist es, ihren Inhalt d.h. die Vogeleltern, ihre Eier und Jungen vor negativen Einflüssen zu beschützen. Vogelnester bieten aber auch optimale Bedingungen für andere Organismen und so beherbergen sie oft eine vielfältige Gemeinschaft von hauptsächlich wirbellosen Tieren, denen die Nester als Nahrungsquelle, Behausung, Unterschlupf, Fortpflanzungsstätte und Überwinterungsort dienen. Es gibt bisher keine einzige Studie, die experimentell untersucht hat, welche Auswirkungen solche „Untermieter“, mit Ausnahme von Parasiten, auf die Entwicklung der Vogelbrut haben. Das Ziel dieser Studie war es, die Auswirkungen von Larven einer saprophagen Fliegenart, nämlich Fannia spp., auf die Entwicklung von Nestlingen beim Europäischen Bienenfresser (Merops apiaster) zu untersuchen. Wir vermuten, dass die Larven dieser Fliegenart Aufgrund ihrer detritovoren Gewohnheiten bei der Nesthygiene eine Rolle spielen könnten und sich positiv auf die Jungenentwicklung auswirken. Wir haben in diesem Zusammenhang die Anzahl der Fliegenlarven während der frühen Nestlingsphase im Nest manipuliert (erhöht oder reduziert) und verschiedene Konditions- und Gesundheitsmaße bei den jungen Bienenfressern gemessen. Das Experiment bestätigt unsere Prognose und zeigt, dass die Anzahl der Larven dieser saprophagen Fliegenart einen positiven Effekt auf die Kondition der Nachkommen hatte. Unsere Ergebnisse deuten darauf hin, dass abgesehen von Parasiten auch die restliche Vogelnestfauna ein wichtiger Faktor für die Entwicklung von Vogelnestlingen darstellen kann. Aufgrund der Tatsache, dass Vogelnester in der Regel kleine, temporäre Ökosysteme darstellen, könnte sie auch als Modell für Ökosystemanalysen interessant machen.

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Acknowledgments

The project was supported by Scientific Grant Agency of the Ministry of Education, science, research and sport of the Slovak Republic and the Slovak Academy of Sciences (VEGA Project Number 2/0137/13). All animal experiments were in accordance to the Slovak Law and approved by the Ministry of Environment of the Slovak Republic. Permission was given under the Permit Number: 4453/2008-2.1/jam.

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Correspondence to Alžbeta Darolová.

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Communicated by F. Bairlein.

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Krištofík, J., Darolová, A., Hoi, C. et al. Housekeeping by lodgers: the importance of bird nest fauna on offspring condition. J Ornithol 158, 245–252 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-016-1384-9

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Keywords

  • Fannia larvae
  • Merops apiaster
  • Saprophagous
  • Sedimentation
  • Haematocrit