Co-infections by malaria parasites decrease feather growth but not feather quality in house martin


A. Marzal, Depto de Biología Animal, Univ. de Extremadura, ES-06071 Badajoz, Spain. E-mail:


During moult, stressors such as malaria and related haemosporidian parasites (e.g. Plasmodium and Haemoproteus) could affect the growth rate and quality of feathers, which in turn may compromise future reproduction and survival. Recent advances in molecular methods to study parasites have revealed that co-infections with multiple parasites are frequent in bird–malaria parasite systems. However, there is no study of the consequences of co-infections on the moult of birds. In house martins Delichon urbica captured and studied at a breeding site in Europe during 11 yr, we measured the quality and the growth rate of tail feathers moulted in the African winter quarters in parallel with the infection status of blood parasites that are also transmitted on the wintering ground. Here we tested if the infection with two haemosporidian parasite lineages has more negative effects than a single lineage infection. We found that birds with haemosporidian infection had lower body condition. We also found that birds co-infected with two haemosporidian lineages had the lowest inferred growth rate of their tail feathers as compared with uninfected and single infected individuals, but co-infections had no effect on feather quality. In addition, feather quality was negatively correlated with feather growth rate, suggesting that these two traits are traded-off against each other. We encourage the study of haemosporidian parasite infection as potential mechanism driving this trade-off in wild populations of birds.