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Abstract

Barn swallows, Hirundo rustica, are commonly infested by the haematophagous tropical fowl mite Omithonyssus bursa (Macronyssidae, Gamasida), which severely reduces various measures of reproductive success among the barn swallow hosts. Food provisioning rate by parent barn swallows, measured in terms of absolute feeding rate by males and females and relative feeding rate by males (percentage of food provided by the male parent), was not significantly related to natural levels of infestation of nests. Experimental manipulation of mite loads in nests during the egg-laying period of the first clutch, which also affected mite loads of parent barn swallows, significantly affected food-provisioning rates of single-brooded, but not of double-brooded barn swallows. These results suggest that effects of mites on the parenting ability of barn swallow hosts depend on host resistance towards parasites. This is consistent with the resource-provisioning hypothesis of parasite-mediated sexual selection, suggesting that females prefer parasite-free males because they are efficient parents, but also with the hypothesis that females prefer males with traits signalling genetic resistance to parasites.