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Ectoparasitism as a Cost of Coloniality in Cliff Swallows (Hirundo Pyrrhonota)

Charles R. Brown and Mary Bomberger Brown
Ecology
Vol. 67, No. 5 (Oct., 1986), pp. 1206-1218
Published by: Wiley
DOI: 10.2307/1938676
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1938676
Page Count: 13
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Ectoparasitism as a Cost of Coloniality in Cliff Swallows (Hirundo Pyrrhonota)
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Abstract

Colonially nesting Cliff Swallows (Passeriformes: Hirundo pyrrhonota) in southwestern Nebraska, USA, are commonly parasitized by hematophagous swallow bugs (Hemiptera: Cimicidae: Oeciacus vicarius) and fleas (Siphonaptera: Ceratophyllidae: Ceratophyllus celsus). We examined to what degree these ectoparasites represent a cost of coloniality for Cliff Swallows. The number of swallow bugs per nest increased significantly with Cliff Swallow colony size. Body mass of nestling swallows at 10 d of age declined significantly as the number of bugs per nestling increased. By fumigating half of the nests in some colonies, killing the bugs, and leaving half of the nests as nonfumigated controls, we showed that swallow bugs lower nestling body mass and nestling body mass and nestling survivorship in large Cliff Swallow colonies but not in small ones. Bugs cost nestlings, on average, up to 3.4 g in body mass, and reduced survivorship by up to 50%. Parasitism by fleas showed no consistent relationship with colony size during the nestling period but increased significantly with colony size early in the season, when birds were first arriving in the study area. Flees did not affect nestling body mass or survivorship and thus, unlike swallow bugs, are probably not important costs of coloniality to Cliff Swallows. Field observations and nest fumigation experiments showed that Cliff Swallows apparently assess which nests are heavily infested with swallow bugs early each spring and select parasite-free nests, leading sometimes to alternate-year colony site usage. Cliff Swallows were more likely to construct new nests (rather than reusing old ones) in large colonies than in small colonies, probably in response to heavier infestations of ectoparasites in the existing nests of large colonies.

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