Avian malaria is associated with increased reproductive investment in the blue tit


E. Podmokła, Inst. of Environmental Sciences, Jagiellonian Univ., Kraków, Poland. E-mail: edyta.podmokla@uj.edu.pl


Haemosporidians causing avian malaria are very common parasites among bird species. Their negative effects have been repeatedly reported in terms of deterioration in survival prospects or reproductive success. However, a positive association between blood parasites and avian fitness has also been reported. Here, we studied a relationship between presence of malaria parasites and reproductive performance of the host, a hole-breeding passerine – the blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus. Since the malaria parasites might affect their hosts differently depending on environmental conditions, we performed brood size manipulation experiment to differentiate parental reproductive effort and study the potential interaction between infection status and brood rearing conditions on reproductive performance. We found individuals infected with malaria parasites to breed later in the season in comparison with uninfected birds, but no differences were detected in clutch size. Interestingly, infected parents produced heavier and larger offspring with stronger reaction to phytohemagglutinin. More importantly, we found a significant interaction between infection status and brood size manipulation in offspring tarsus length and reaction to phytohemagglutinin: presence of parasites had stronger positive effect among birds caring for experimentally enlarged broods. Our results might be interpreted either in the light of the parasite-mediated selection or terminal investment hypothesis.