The evolutionary transition to coloniality promotes higher blood parasitism in birds

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Parasitism has been argued as one of the major costs of breeding sociality in birds. However, there is no clear evidence for an increased parasite pressure associated with the evolutionary transition from solitary to colonial breeding. I used the pairwise comparative method to test whether colonial bird species incur in a greater risk of infection and if they must to face with a greater diversity of blood parasites (Haematozoa), by comparing pairs of congeners that included one solitary and one colonial breeding species. The richness, both in terms of number of species and number of genera, as well as the prevalence of blood parasites resulted higher in colonial species than in their solitary breeding sisters, while controlling for differences in research effort and other potentially confounding effects. These results point towards higher transmission rates of blood parasites among colonial hosts. Given the detrimental effects of blood parasites on their host fitness, the higher risk of infection and the exposition to a more diverse parasite fauna may have imposed an important cost associated to the evolution of avian coloniality. This may help to explain why colonial species have larger immune system organs, as well as to explore differences in other host life history traits potentially shaped by blood parasites.

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