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Aromatic plants in blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus nests: no negative effect on blood-sucking Protocalliphora blow fly larvae


  • Adèle Mennerat,

  • Philippe Perret,

  • Samuel P. Caro,

  • Philipp Heeb,

  • Marcel M. Lambrechts

A. Mennerat (correspondence), P. Perret and M. M. Lambrechts, Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, 1919 Route de Mende, Cedex 5, 34293 Montpellier, France. E-mail: – S. P. Caro, Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive and the Netherlands Institute of Ecology, P.O. Box 40, 6666 ZG Heteren, The Netherlands. – P. Heeb, Laboratoire Evolution & Diversité Biologique (bât. IVR3), Université Paul Sabatier, 118 Route de Narbonne, 31062 Toulouse, France.


Nesting birds use several behavioural or physiological defence mechanisms against parasites. On Corsica, female blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus incorporate fresh fragments of a limited number of aromatic plants in the nest cup, from the end of nest construction until fledging. Some of these plants negatively affect bacterial growth and host location by blood-sucking mosquitoes in laboratory conditions. In natural populations, Corsican blue tit chicks are exposed to the highest levels of blood-sucking ectoparasitic blow flies Protocalliphora spp. reported in Europe. These ectoparasites can have severe negative effects on chick development and survival probabilities, especially when food constraints are elevated. Here we investigated in several natural Corsican blue tit populations the hypothesis that aromatic plants brought to the nest have anti-blow fly effects during the chick-rearing stage. We predicted that: 1) the amount of aromatic plants should be negatively related to blow fly infestation intensity across nests, 2) experimental addition of aromatic plants in nests should reduce blow fly infestation intensity, and 3) nestlings should be in better physical condition in nests where aromatic plants were experimentally added. No significant relation was found between amount of aromatic plants in nests and blow fly infestation intensity. Experimental addition of aromatic plants did not reduce blow fly infestation intensity and did not affect the chick phenotypic parameters we measured. We conclude that aromatic plants in blue tit nests are not used as a defence against ectoparasitic Protocalliphora blow flies in our study population.