Clever birds are lousy: Co-variation between avian innovation and the taxonomic richness of their amblyceran lice

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2011
Authors:Z. Vas, Lefebvre, L., Johnson, K. P., Reiczigel, J., Rózsa, L.
Journal:International Journal for Parasitology
Pagination:1295 - 1300
Date Published:10/2011

Lice (Insecta: Phthiraptera) are ectoparasites that reduce host life expectancy and sexual attractiveness. Their taxonomic richness varies considerably among their hosts. Previous studies have already explored some important factors shaping louse diversity. An unexplored potential correlate of louse taxonomic richness is host behavioural flexibility. In this comparative study, we examine the relationship between louse generic richness, innovative capabilities (as a proxy for behavioural flexibility), and brain size while controlling for host species diversity, phylogeny, body size and research effort. Using data for 108 avian families, we found a highly ignificant positive relationship between host innovative capabilities and the taxonomic richness of amblyceran lice, but a lack of a similar relationship in ischnoceran lice. Host brain size had only a marginal impact on amblyceran diversity and no correlation with ischnoceran diversity. This suggests that the effect in Amblycera is not mediated by metabolic limitations due to the energetic costs of brain size and maintenance, rather directly caused by the ecological differences between hosts with differing cognitive capabilities. We propose four alternative and mutually non-exclusive hypotheses that may explain this phenomenon.

Short Title:International Journal for Parasitology
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