Nestling development and the timing of tick attachmentsNestling development and the timing of tick attachments
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Evolutionary ecology group (EVECO)
Parasitology. - London, 1908, currens
139(2012):6, p. 766-773
University of Antwerp
Parasites exposed to fast-developing hosts experience a variety of conditions over a short time period. Only few studies in vertebrate-ectoparasite systems have integrated the timing of ectoparasite infestations in the host's development into the search for factors explaining ectoparasite burden. In this study we examined the temporal pattern of attachment in a nidicolous tick (Ixodes arboricola) throughout the development of a songbird (Parus major). In the first experiment, we exposed bird clutches at hatching to a mix of the 3 tick instars (larvae, nymphs and adults), and monitored the ticks that attached in relation to the average broods' age. In a complementary experiment we focused on the attachment in adult female ticks the largest and most significant instar for the species' reproduction after releasing them at different moments in the nestlings development. Our observations revealed a positive association between the size of the attached instar and the broods' age. Particularly, adult females were less likely to be found attached to recently hatched nestlings, which contrasts with the smaller-sized larvae and nymphs. These differences suggest either an infestation strategy that is adapted to host physiology and development, or a result of selection by the hosts' anti-tick resistance mechanisms. We discuss the implications of our results in terms of tick life-history strategies.