Haematozoa infections in a Great Tit Parus major population in Central Portugal: Relationships with breeding effort and health

  • Norte A
  • AraÚjo P
  • Sampaio H
 et al. 
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Abstract

Blood parasites may act as modulators of their hosts' ecology, life histories and fitness. We studied the prevalence of Plasmodium sp., Haemoproteus sp. and Leucocytozoon sp. and their effects on morphological, biochemical and haematological variables and on breeding effort of Great Tits Parus major. Total prevalence (percentage of individuals infected by any parasite) ranged from 7.7% to 61.1%. There was an overall positive association in prevalence between the three haematozoan parasites. No effect of sex or age on infection status was observed. Negative impacts of infection on physiological condition depended largely on year and/or season and included effects on body condition index, plasma protein and haemoglobin index. There were also indications that parasite infection increased immune response and stress levels and activated antioxidant defence mechanisms. Males with higher fledging success had a higher probability of Haemoproteus infection, and females laying heavier eggs had a higher probability of Plasmodium infection. However, clutch size was negatively associated with the probability of infection by Leucocytozoon and Haemoproteus. Surprisingly, males raising second broods had a lower prevalence of both Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon. Only 5.7% of first-brood nestlings were infected, but those in infected nestboxes had a lower heterophil/lymphocyte ratio. This study confirms the pathogenicity of blood parasites to the host by demonstrating negative effects of infection on both physiology and breeding performance.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Haemoproteus
  • Leucocytozoon
  • Physiology
  • Plasmodium

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