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Abstract

Relatively little is known about the effects of specific parasites on sexually selected behavioral traits. We subjected free-living mountain white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys oriantha) to a playback experiment to identify the effect of hemosporidian parasites on potentially sexually selected song characteristics. We recorded song after a playback of a novel white-crowned sparrow song, meant to simulate a territorial intrusion. Infections with Leucocytozoon or Plasmodium influenced singing behavior, while infection with Haemoproteus had no detectable effect. Specifically, song consistency, as measured using a spectrogram correlation, was influenced by both Plasmodium and Leucocytozoon infection. Additionally, birds infected with Plasmodium sang fewer songs following experimental playback. Thus, relatively widespread parasites, like Plasmodium, may have a strong effect on potentially sexually selected song characteristics.