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Feather mites (Acari: Astigmata) and body condition of their avian hosts: a large correlative study

AuthorsGalván, Ismael ; Aguilera, Eduardo ; Atiénzar, Francisco; Barba, Emilio; Cantó, José L.; Blanco, Guillermo ; Cortés, Verónica; Óscar, Frías; Vögeli, Matthias; Jovani, Roger
Issue Date2012
PublisherBlackwell Publishing
CitationJournal of Avian Biology, 43:273-279 (2012)
AbstractFeather mites are arthropods that live on or in the feathers of birds, and are among the commonest avian ectosymbionts. However, the nature of the ecological interaction between feather mites and birds remains unclear, some studies reporting negative effects of feather mites on their hosts and others reporting positive or no effects. Here we use a large dataset com- prising 20 189 measurements taken from 83 species of birds collected during 22 yr in 151 localities from seven countries in Europe and North Africa to explore the correlation between feather mite abundance and body condition of their hosts. We predicted that, if wing-dwelling feather mites are parasites, a negative correlation with host body condition should be found, while a mutualistic interaction should yield positive correlation. Although negative relationships between feather mite abundance and host body condition were found in a few species of birds, the sign of the correlation was positive in most bird species (69%). The overall effect size was only slightly positive (r = 0.066). The effect of feather mite abundance explained < 10% of variance in body condition in most species (87%). Results suggest that feather mites are not parasites of birds, but rather that they hold a commensalistic relationship where feather mites may benefit from feeding on uropygial gland secretions of their hosts and birds do not seem to obtain a great benefit from the presence of feather mites.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-048X.2012.05686.x
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