Comprehensive investigation of ectoparasite community and abundance across life history stages of avian host


  • Editor: Andrew Kitchener

Alexander V. Badyaev, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721 USA.


Fitness consequences of ectoparasitism are expressed over the lifetime of their hosts in relation to variation in composition and abundance of the entire ectoparasite community and across all host life history stages. However, most empirical studies have focused on parasite species-specific effects and only during some life history stages. We conducted a systematic, year-long survey of an ectoparasite community in a wild population of house finches Carpodacus mexicanus Müller in south-western Arizona, with a specific focus on ecological and behavioral correlates of ectoparasite prevalence and abundance. We investigated five ectoparasite species: two feather mite genera – both novel for house finches –Strelkoviacarus (Analgidae) and Dermoglyphus (Dermoglyphidae), the nest mite Pellonyssus reedi (Macronyssidae), and the lice Menacanthus alaudae (Menoponidae) and Ricinus microcephalus (Ricinidae). Mite P. reedi and louse Menacanthus alaudae abundance peaked during host breeding season, especially in older birds, whereas feather mite abundance peaked during molt. Overall, breeding birds had more P. reedi than non-breeders, molting males had greater abundance of feather mites than molting females and non-molting males, and young males had more feather mites than older males. We discuss these results in relation to natural history of ectoparasites under study and suggest that ectoparasites might synchronize their life cycles to those of their hosts. Pronounced differences in relative abundance of ectoparasite species among host's life history stages have important implications for evolution of parasite-specific host defenses.