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Beak of the pinch: anti-parasite traits are similar among Darwin’s finch species

Villa, Scott M., Koop, Jennifer A. H., Le Bohec, Céline, Clayton, Dale H.
Evolutionary ecology 2018 v.32 no.5 pp. 443-452
Passeriformes, adaptive radiation, animal morphology, beak, birds, ectoparasites, feather mites, parasite load, preening
Darwin’s finches are an iconic example of adaptive radiation. The size and shape of the beaks of different finch species are diversified for feeding on different size seeds and other food resources. However, beaks also serve other functions, such as preening for the control of ectoparasites. In diverse groups of birds, the effectiveness of preening is governed by the length of the overhanging tip of the upper mandible of the beak. This overhang functions as a template against which the tip of the lower mandible generates a pinching force sufficient to damage or kill ectoparasites. Here we compare feeding versus preening components of the beak morphology of small, medium, and large ground finches that share a single parasite community. Despite adaptive divergence in beak morphology related to feeding, the three species have nearly identical relative mandibular overhang lengths. Moreover, birds with intermediate length overhangs have the lowest feather mite loads. These results suggest that Darwin’s finches maintain an optimal beak morphology to effectively control their ectoparasites.