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Oecologia. 2013 Apr;171(4):853-61. doi: 10.1007/s00442-012-2444-3. Epub 2012 Sep 11.

Malaria infection and feather growth rate predict reproductive success in house martins.

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Departamento de Biología Animal, Universidad de Extremadura, Badajoz, Spain.


Carry-over effects take place when events occurring in one season influence individual performance in a subsequent season. Blood parasites (e.g. Plasmodium and Haemoproteus) have strong negative effects on the body condition of their hosts and could slow the rate of feather growth on the wintering grounds. In turn, these winter moult costs could reduce reproductive success in the following breeding season. In house martins Delichon urbica captured and studied at a breeding site in Europe, we used ptilochronology to measure growth rate of tail feathers moulted on the winter range in Africa, and assessed infection status of blood parasites transmitted on the wintering grounds. We found a negative association between haemosporidian parasite infection status and inferred growth rate of tail feathers. A low feather growth rate and blood parasite infections were related to a delay in laying date in their European breeding quarters. In addition, clutch size and the number of fledglings were negatively related to a delayed laying date and blood parasite infection. These results stress the importance of blood parasites and feather growth rate as potentially mechanisms driving carry-over effects to explain fitness differences in wild populations of migratory birds.

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