Vector abundance determines Trypanosoma prevalence in nestling blue tits

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The effect of insect vectors on avian exposure to infection by pathogens remains poorly studied. Here, we used an insect repellent treatment to reduce the number of blood-sucking flying insects in blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus nests and examined its effect on nestling health status measured as body mass, nestling phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) response and blood parasite prevalence. We found that (i) the insect repellent treatment significantly reduced the number of blood-sucking flying insects in nests and (ii) the number of blood-sucking flying insects had a significant effect on the prevalence of the blood parasite Trypanosoma independently of the treatment. In addition, we found support for an adverse effect of parasite infections on nestling PHA response. Nestlings infected by Trypanosoma mounted a weaker response against PHA than non-parasitized ones. In addition, the number of blowflies in the nest was negatively associated with nestling PHA response. Overall, we found support for the hypothesis that blood-sucking flying insects attacking nestlings increase their exposure to parasite infections. Our results further substantiate the adverse effect of parasites on nestling condition.

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