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Ectoparasite Activity During Incubation Increases Microbial Growth on Avian Eggs

Tomás, G., Martín-Gálvez, D., Ruiz-Castellano, C., Ruiz-Rodríguez, M., Peralta-Sánchez, J. M., Martín-Vivaldi, M., Soler, J. J.
Microbial ecology 2018 v.76 no.2 pp. 555-564
Diptera, Sturnus, adverse effects, bacteria, bacterial infections, birds, blood, ectoparasites, egg shell, eggs, embryonic mortality, evolution, feces, hematophagous insects, hematophagy, host-parasite relationships, hosts, microbial growth, microbial load, nests, nutrient availability, parasitism, parasitoses, pathogens, progeny, species diversity
While direct detrimental effects of parasites on hosts are relatively well documented, other more subtle but potentially important effects of parasitism are yet unexplored. Biological activity of ectoparasites, apart from skin injuries and blood-feeding, often results in blood remains, or parasite faeces that accumulate and modify the host environment. In this way, ectoparasite activities and remains may increase nutrient availability that may favour colonization and growth of microorganisms including potential pathogens. Here, by the experimental addition of hematophagous flies (Carnus hemapterus, a common ectoparasite of birds) to nests of spotless starlings Sturnus unicolor during incubation, we explore this possible side effect of parasitism which has rarely, if ever, been investigated. Results show that faeces and blood remains from parasitic flies on spotless starling eggshells at the end of incubation were more abundant in experimental than in control nests. Moreover, eggshell bacterial loads of different groups of cultivable bacteria including potential pathogens, as well as species richness of bacteria in terms of Operational Taxonomic Units (OTUs), were also higher in experimental nests. Finally, we also found evidence of a link between eggshell bacterial loads and increased embryo mortality, which provides indirect support for a bacterial-mediated negative effect of ectoparasitism on host offspring. Trans-shell bacterial infection might be one of the main causes of embryo death and, consequently, this hitherto unnoticed indirect effect of ectoparasitism might be widespread in nature and could affect our understanding of ecology and evolution of host-parasite interactions.