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Evolution. 2004 Jan;58(1):203-6.

Parasitism reduces the potential for evolution in a wild bird population.

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  • 1Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle and Evolutive, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1919 Route de Mende, F-34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France.


We tested the effect of detrimental environmental conditions during growth on the heritability of chick body size in a wild population of blue tits (Parus caeruleus) highly parasitized by blowfly larvae. During nine years, we experimentally induced deparasitized broods, whereas unmanipulated control broods remained heavily infested by two species of Protocalliphora ectoparasites. The heritability of tarsus length was significantly higher in deparasitized broods than control broods, due in part to a very low common brood environment effect in deparasitized broods. We also found evidence for significant genotype-by-environment interactions, which further reflected the effect of the ecological conditions on the expression of additive genetic effects and could represent an additional constraint on the evolution of tarsus length. To our knowledge, this experiment provides the first evidence of host quantitative genetics being influenced by parasitism, and illustrates the potential for parasitism to constrain an evolutionary response to selection.

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