Offspring quality and tick infestation load in brood rearing great tits **Parus major**
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Oikos: a journal of ecology. - KÝbenhavn
, p. 1499-1506
University of Antwerp
Although the impact of nest-dwelling ectoparasites on nestlings in altricial birds is relatively well documented, little information is available on the fitness consequences of birdectoparasite systems with limited ectoparasite transmission between parents and their offspring. In this particular context we tested the hypothesis that parental infestation by a haematophageous field ectoparasite, the sheep tick Ixodes ricinus, in a hole-breeding passerine bird, the great tit Parus major, ultimately leads to the reduction of nestling quality. Observational data of a long-term study show that 15 days after hatching, nestlings' body condition (body mass corrected for body size) was negatively associated with the tick load of the mother, while no association was found with tick load of the father. A field experiment was conducted to test if adult infestation by ticks leads to a reduction in offspring quality. The field experiment consisted of a two by two factorial design: neither, one or both parents were infested with a high tick load (12 nymphs) when nestlings were eight days old. Four days after manipulation of the parents, the effect of the treatment on nestlings' health was assessed by measuring haematological and biochemical parameters. Body condition of nestlings was monitored from three days after hatching, until seven days after tick manipulation of the parents. Although parental tick manipulation resulted in successful tick feeding, nestlings' health parameters were not affected. We therefore suggest that the negative association between nestling condition and parental tick load does not reflect a causal effect of parasites, but either reflects a common environmental factor affecting parental infestation levels and offspring condition, or reflects parental quality. We propose different explanations why this association is expressed in female parents only.