Evol Ecol Res 1: 189-210 (1999)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Interactions between a brood parasite and its host in relation to parasitism and immune defence

J.J. Soler,1* A.P. Møller,2 M. Soler1 and J.G. Martínez1

1Departamento de Biología Animal y Ecología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Granada, E-18071 Granada, Spain and 2Laboratoire d’Ecologie, CNRS URA 258, Bâtiment A, 7ème étage, case 237, 7 Quai St. Bernard, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, F-75252 Paris Cedex 05, France



Nestlings of many brood parasites are reared together with those of their hosts, but still manage to monopolize a disproportionate share of the food delivered by adult hosts. We hypothesized that: (1) the low levels of host-specific pathogens of such brood parasite nestlings provide them with an advantage in competition for limited food; (2) a higher provisioning rate and the resulting better body condition of brood-parasite nestlings compared with that of host nestlings may increase the efficiency of their immune defence; (3) brood parasites may decrease the risk of parasitism and improve the immune response level of their offpring by selecting hosts with a more efficient immune defence (low pathogens load) and by selecting high-quality hosts, respectively. This effect should provide brood-parasite nestlings with an advantage in their competition with host nestlings. This hypothesis was tested in the magpie Pica pica, which is the main European host of the great spotted cuckoo Clamator glandarius. Cuckoo nestlings are reared together with magpie nestlings, but the former usually manage to outcompete the latter. The results of our experiment were as follows. Magpie and great spotted cuckoo nestlings had similar prevalence of a generalist, directly transmitted haematophagous Diptera of the family Carnidae. Magpie nestlings had considerably higher prevalence and intensity of a haematozoan parasite of the genus Leucocytozoon than nestlings of the great spotted cuckoo. Great spotted cuckoo nestlings had greater immune responses, measured in terms of T-cell response to an injection with phytohaemagglutinin, sedimentation rate of erythrocytes and colour of the plasma than magpie nestlings. Heavier magpie nestlings had greater immune responses than lighter conspecifics. We found no support for the third hypothesis, however. Therefore, brood-parasite nestlings may outcompete host nestlings because of pathogen specificity, and because of their efficient immune system mediated by their higher rate of food intake.

Keywords: brood parasitism, Clamator glandarius, competition, haematocrit, leukocytes, Leucocytozoon, Pica pica, T-cell response.

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        © 1999 Jaun. J. Soler. All EER articles are copyrighted by their authors. All authors endorse, permit and license Evolutionary Ecology Ltd. to grant its subscribing institutions/libraries the copying privileges specified below without additional consideration or payment to them or to Evolutionary Ecology, Ltd. These endorsements, in writing, are on file in the office of Evolutionary Ecology, Ltd. Consult authors for permission to use any portion of their work in derivative works, compilations or to distribute their work in any commercial manner.

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