Haemosporidian parasitism in the blackcap Sylvia atricapilla in relation to spring arrival and body condition

Diego Santiago-Alarcon, Raeann Mettler, Gernot Segelbacher, H. Martin Schaefer

Published online: 
12 August 2013

Parasites can exert strong selection on hosts. Throughout the year migrants are exposed to different sets of parasites, which may affect life history traits such as migratory schedules. Here, we studied the relationship between parasite infection and arrival date of blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla to their breeding grounds in Germany throughout a period of six years (2007–2012). We used two data sets, one that included all blackcaps and one that included only recaptured birds. We assesed whether parasites influence spring arrival to breeding grounds, and for the recaptured data set, we analysed temporal variation in parasitism (i.e. infection status and parasitaemia) throughout the breeding season. We used both microscopy and PCR (a fragment of ˜ 479 bp of the mtDNA cyt b) to determine haemosporidian infection. Blackcaps were mostly infected with Haemoproteus parabelopolskyi (lineages SYAT01 and SYAT02). Infection status, but not parasitaemia, was constant through time for individual birds; meaning that once a bird is infected, it most likely will retain the infection for life. We found that infection by haemosporidian parasites has no relationship to arrival date in this blackcap population; however, infection by H. parabelopolskyi has a marginally significant effect on arrival date of recaptured blackcaps, somewhat delaying their arrival to breeding grounds. Birds captured later in the season were more likely to be infected than those from early spring, and parasitaemia was frequently lower in birds captured earlier in the season compared to those captured later (summer).