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Fine-tuned distribution of feather mites (Astigmata) on the wing of birds: the case of blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla

AuthorsJovani, Roger ; Serrano, David
Issue DateSep-2004
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons
CitationJournal of Avian Biology, 35: 16 — 20, 2004
AbstractThe distribution of feather mites (Astigmata) along the wing of passerine birds could change dramatically within minutes because of the rapid movement of mites between feathers. However, no rigorous study has answered how fine-tuned is the pattern of distribution of feather mites at a given time. Here we present a multiscale study of the distribution of feather mites on the wing of non-moulting blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla in a short time period and at a single locality. We found that the number and distribution of mites differed among birds, but it was extremely similar between the wings of each bird. Moreover, mites consistently avoided the first secondary feather, despite that it is placed at the centre of the feathers most used by them. Thus, our results suggest that feather mites do precise, feather-level decisions on where to live, contradicting the current view that mites perform ‘‘mass’’, or ‘‘blind’’ movements across wing feathers. Moreover, our findings indicate that ‘‘rare’’ distributions are not spurious data or sampling errors, but each distribution of mites on the wing of each bird is the outcome of the particular conditions operating on each ambient-bird-feather mite system at a given time. This study indicates that we need to focus on the distribution of feather mites at the level of the individual bird and at the feather level to improve our understanding of the spatial ecology of mites on the wings of birds.
Publisher version (URL)http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.0908-8857.2004.03213.x/pdf
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