Does Sunlight Enhance the Effectiveness of Avian Preening for Ectoparasite Control?

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2012
Authors:J. A. H. Koop, Huber, S. K., Clayton, D. H.
Journal:Journal of Parasitology
Pagination:46 - 48
Date Published:02-2012

Preening is a bird’s first line of defense against harmful ectoparasites. Ectoparasites, in turn, have evolved adaptations for avoiding preening such as hardened exoskeletons and escape behavior. Earlier work suggests that some groups of ectoparasites, such as feather lice, leave hiding places in feathers that are exposed to direct sunlight, making them more vulnerable to preening. It is, therefore, conceivable that birds may choose to preen in direct sunlight, assuming it improves the effectiveness of preening. Using mourning doves and their feather lice, we tested 2 related hypotheses; (1) that birds with access to direct sunlight preen more often than birds in shade, and (2) that birds with access to direct sunlight are more effective at controlling their ectoparasites than birds in shade. To test these hypotheses, we conducted an experiment in which we manipulated both sunlight and preening ability. Our results provided no support for either hypothesis, i.e., birds given the opportunity to preen in direct sunlight did not preen significantly more often, or more effectively, than did birds in shade. Thus, the efficiency of preening for ectoparasite control appears to be independent of light intensity, at least in the case of mourning doves and their feather lice.

Short Title:Journal of Parasitology
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