Ecological factors driving the feather mite associations in tropical avian hosts

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Birds host a diversity of ectosymbionts including feather-dwelling arthropods such as feather mites and lice that they have co-evolved and speciated with. Among these ectosymbionts, feather mites have evolved more mutualistic to commensal associations with birds than other groups. However, our understanding of the biological and ecological drivers that shape the associations between avian hosts and feather mites in tropical communities is poor. Thus, to help fill this knowledge gap we investigated the factors that govern feather mite abundances at host community, host species and individual levels in bird communities from different elevations on the tropical island of New Guinea. We examined the effects of abiotic factors, such as temperature and precipitation, the influence of host species, feeding guilds, bill morphology, body region, body conditions and infections with haemosporidian blood parasites on feather mite abundance. We found that feather mites were very prevalent among New Guinean birds and that mite abundance was not significantly different between elevations. Bird species with curved bills experienced significantly lower number of mites compared to species with straight bills. Feather mite abundance was significantly higher on flight feathers than on the rest of the body and mite abundance was not strongly associated with the body condition of individuals in most host species, except for a significant negative relationships in three species. Moreover, we did not find an association between feather mite abundance and blood parasite infections, potentially indicating a non-synergistic association of these two symbionts. Overall, our study demonstrates that tropical avian-feather mite associations are driven by different biotic and abiotic factors at host community, species and individual levels, highlighting the importance of examining these associations at both broad and fine scales to thoroughly understand the evolution of these symbioses.

TidsskriftJournal of Avian Biology
Udgave nummer6
Antal sider13
StatusUdgivet - 2022

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
– WPT, IS and SP thank Earlham College student‐faculty research support through an anonymous donor, the Matthews Student/Faculty Research in Physics/Biological Science fund, the Scantland Family Student/Faculty Collaborative Research Fund, the James B Cope Endowed Student‐Faculty Vertebrate Zoology Field Research Fund and the Alphaeus Test Research Fund . KHB and KAJ are grateful for a Carlsberg Foundation Distinguished Associate Professor Fellowship to Knud A. Jønsson (CF17‐0248).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Journal of Avian Biology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Nordic Society Oikos.

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