Long-term effects of early parasite exposure on song duration and singing strategy in great tits

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Song is a sexually selected trait in many bird species and has been suggested to function as a signal of a male's health and parasite resistance. Here we present an experimental field study on the long-term effects of parasite exposure early in life on adult bird song. We exposed nestling great tits (Parus major) to ectoparasitic hen fleas (Ceratophyllus gallinae) and on their recruitment into the local breeding population assessed the response to a playback of a challenging male in their breeding territory. We show, to our knowledge for the first time in a wild bird population, that parasite exposure early in life affects bird song: song duration of males that were exposed to parasites early in life was reduced by 32% compared with males that grew up in a flea-free environment. Early parasite exposure also significantly reduced the degree of song overlap with the playback, which has been shown to correlate with social status. There was no effect of early parasite exposure on the number of different song types sung or on the latency until the males started the vocal response to the playback. These results suggest that mates or rivals can use song duration and song overlap as proxies for an individual's exposure to parasites early in life. It thereby highlights both the importance of parasites in maintaining honesty of sexually selected traits and the costs of parasitism in terms of reduced attractiveness and competitiveness.

Details

Authors
  • Linda L. Bischoff
  • Barbara Tschirren
  • Heinz Richner
Organisations
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology

Keywords

  • sexual selection, developmental stress hypothesis, bird song, ectoparasites, signaling, honest, Parus major
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-270
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Volume20
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes

Bibliographic note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: Animal Ecology (Closed 2011) (011012001)