Causes and consequences of life-history variation: The effects of parasites, glucocorticoids, and environmental conditions in the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis)
- Location: Zootissalen, Norbyvägen 18D, Uppsala
- Doctoral student: Fletcher, Kevin
- About the dissertation
- Organiser: Zooekologi
- Contact person: Fletcher, Kevin
Central to the theory of life history are the trade-offs that organisms make during their lifetime to maximise their reproductive potential. This thesis focus on the effect of haemosporidian blood parasites on host life history, in relation to the glucocorticoid response and environmental conditions.
Life-history is the study of all the different stages of life that affect reproductive success and survival between the birth and death of an organism. The reproductive output of an organism is constrained by many things including time, resource, disease agents and environmental conditions. In addition, lineage-specific traits and the limitations of the physiological systems can limit how an organism responds to ecological processes, and thus constrains the variation of life histories represented in nature. Central to the theory of life history are the trade-offs that organisms make during their lifetime to maximise their reproductive potential. In this thesis, I focus on the effect of haemosporidian blood parasites on host life history, in relation to the glucocorticoid response and environmental conditions. The host study species is a population of collared flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis), a species that provides bi-parental care, located in the south of Gotland. We show that nestling condition predicts parasite infection and that parasite-mediated selection can start early on in the birds’ life. We also found a link between Lower levels of glucocorticoids and parasite infection, which might indicate a trade-off between immunity and reproductive effort. Adult birds’ upregulated glucocorticoids in response to an increase in reproductive effort and a predictable change in energy demand during reproduction. I also show that glucocorticoids respond to changing environmental conditions. These results together accentuate the importance of the plasticity of the glucocorticoid response to reproductive success. Moreover, higher levels of hormone during reproduction predicted survival to the next breeding season. In nestlings, glucocorticoid levels increased as a consequence of parent infection status and an increase in reproductive effort. Overall, our results indicate that the glucocorticoid response is context dependent. Finally, female collared flycatchers might pay a fitness cost as a consequence of parasite infection, but can still reproduce successfully suggesting that they can tolerate the parasite. To further our understanding of costs related to parasite infection, we must understand better the mechanisms that enable the host to tolerate infection. This study indicates that glucocorticoids provide a useful tool to detect how wild birds respond to predictable and unpredictable challenges.