Tree swallow reproductive investment, stress, and parasites

  • Shutler D
  • Mullie A
  • Clark R
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We reduced or increased tree swallow, Tachycineta bicolor (Vieillot, 1808), clutch sizes by three eggs (50% of modal clutch size) to test experimentally for relationships between stress and parasite loads. In the first year of the study (1996), we enumerated two measures of stress (granulocyte to non-granulocyte ratios and heterophil to lympho- cyte ratios), blood parasites, and ectoparasites living on birds (and not in nesting material). Stress indices increased for parents, but not for nestlings, associated with larger broods. Only one blood parasite (a trypanosome) was detected in blood smears from 221 different individuals. On individual birds, we found a median of 0 fleas, 0 lice, and 7 feather mites. In the second study (1998), we focused on parasites living in nesting material. Here, we found a median of 106 fleas and, of the parasites we observed, these probably had the greatest potential impact on the birds. Per capita flea loads were higher in nests that contained more young. However, despite higher stress to parents and higher per capita flea loads in enlarged broods, flea numbers were not associated with smaller nestlings or with reduced fledging suc- cess.

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  • Dave Shutler

  • Adele Mullie

  • Robert G Clark

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