TitleParasite-mediated growth patterns and nutritional constraints in a cavity-nesting bird.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsO'Brien, EL, Dawson, RD
JournalJ Anim Ecol
Date Published2008 Jan
KeywordsAnimal Feed, Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena, Animals, Carotenoids, Dietary Supplements, Diptera, Feathers, Immunity, Cellular, Lutein, Passeriformes, Seasons, Weight Gain, Xanthophylls, Zeaxanthins

1. Trade-offs between growth and immunity of nestling birds can be influenced by parasites, but the magnitude of these effects may depend on availability of critical dietary nutrients. Owing to their importance for both immune system function and growth, dietary carotenoids have the potential to mediate parasite-induced developmental strategies of avian hosts. 2. The effects of ectoparasitic blow flies Protocalliphora spp. and dietary carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) on immune function and patterns of growth in nestling mountain bluebirds Sialia currucoides were investigated by combining parasite removal and carotenoid supplementation treatments in a 2 x 2 design. 3. Supplemental carotenoids enhanced nestlings' T-cell-mediated immune response following intradermal injection of phytohaemagglutinin. 4. The effect of carotenoid supplementation on rate of mass gain depended on whether broods were exposed to parasites: among parasitized broods, those receiving supplemental carotenoids gained mass more rapidly than nonsupplemented broods, whereas there was no effect of supplemental carotenoids on growth of mass in broods that had parasites removed. This suggests that additional dietary carotenoids allowed nestlings to compensate for the otherwise detrimental effects of parasites on mass gain. For length of the eighth primary feather at fledging, early and late broods differed in their response to parasitism: early broods showed an increase in feather length when parasites were removed, while nestlings in late broods had shorter feathers in the absence of parasites. We suggest that this may reflect within-season variation in parasite-mediated growth strategies of nestlings. 5. Maternal condition was positively associated with mass, condition and rate of feather growth of offspring under all conditions, and also influenced nestling immunocompetence, but only in the absence of parasites. 6. We conclude that dietary carotenoids alleviate some of the detrimental effects of parasites on nestling birds; however, parasites also appear to specifically influence other growth and resource allocation strategies, and possibly constrain maternal or genetic effects on offspring phenotype, irrespective of dietary carotenoid availability.

Alternate JournalJ Anim Ecol
PubMed ID18177333