Additive effects of ectoparasites over reproductive attempts in the long-lived alpine swift

P Bize*, A Roulin, JL Tella, LF Bersier, H Richner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


1. Parasitism is a non-negligible cost of reproduction in wild organisms, and hosts are selected to partition resources optimally between current and future reproduction. While parents can compensate for the cost of parasitism by increasing their current reproductive investment, such change in resource allocation is expected to carry-over costs on future reproduction.

2. Life history theory predicts that because long-lived organisms have a high residual reproductive value, they should be more reluctant to increase parental effort in response to parasites. Also, when rearing successive infested broods, the cost of parasitism can cumulate over the years and hence be exacerbated by past infestations.

3. We tested these two predictions in the alpine swift Apus melba, a long-lived colonial bird that is infested intensely by the nest-based blood sucking louse-fly Crataerina melbae. For this purpose, we manipulated ectoparasite load over 3 consecutive years and measured reproductive parameters in successive breeding attempts of adults assigned randomly to 'parasitized' and 'deparasitized' treatments.

4. In current reproduction, fathers of experimentally parasitized broods produced a similar number of offspring as fathers from the deparasitized treatment, but the rearing period was prolonged by 4 days. Fathers that were assigned to the parasitized treatment in year x produced significantly fewer fledglings the following year x + 1 than those of the deparasitized treatment. The number of young produced by fathers in year x + 1 was correlated negatively with the number of days they cared for their brood in the previous year x. We also found a significant interaction between treatments performed over 2 successive years, with fathers of parasitized broods suffering a larger fitness loss if in the past they had already cared for a parasitized brood rather than for a deparasitized one. Similar effects of parasitism, although partly non-significant (0.05 <P-values > 0.10), were found in mothers.

5. Altogether, our results show that parasites can modify resource allocation between current and future reproduction in long-lived hosts, and that the cost of parasitism can cumulate over the years. It emphasizes the fact that effects of parasites can depend on past infestations and become apparent in future reproduction only.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1080-1088
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2004


  • Apus melba
  • cost of plasticity
  • ectoparasite
  • hatching asynchrony
  • Hippoboscidae
  • life history theory
  • trade-off between current and future reproduction
  • COST


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