Repeatable differences in exploratory behaviour predict tick infestation probability in wild great tits

Robert E. Rollins, Alexia Mouchet, Gabriele Margos, Lidia Chitimia-Dobler, Volker Fingerle, Noémie S. Becker, Niels J. Dingemanse
2021 Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology  
Ecological factors and individual-specific traits affect parasite infestation in wild animals. Ixodid ticks are important ectoparasites of various vertebrate hosts, which include passerine bird species such as the great tit (Parus major). We studied various key ecological variables (breeding density, human disturbance) and phenotypic traits (exploratory behaviour, body condition) proposed to predict tick infestation probability and burden in great tits. Our study spanned 3 years and 12 nest box
more » ... plots located in southern Germany. Breeding, adult great tits were assessed for exploration behaviour, body condition, and tick burden. Plots were open to human recreation; human disturbance was quantified in each plot as a recreation pressure index from biweekly nest box inspections. Infested individuals were repeatable in tick burden across years. These repeatable among-individual differences in tick burden were not attributable to exploration behaviour. However, faster explorers did have a higher infestation probability. Furthermore, body condition was negatively correlated to tick burden. Recreation pressure was correlated to increased infestation probability, although this relationship was just above the threshold of statistical significance. Our study implies that avian infestation probability and tick burden are each determined by distinct phenotypic traits and ecological factors. Our findings highlight the importance of animal behaviour and human disturbance in understanding variation in tick burden among avian hosts. Significance statement Various abiotic and biotic factors, including personality type, influence tick parasitism in birds, but exactly how all these factors interplay remains unclear. We studied a wild population of great tits over a 3-year period and assessed birds for their exploration behaviour and tick infestation. We found that more explorative great tits were more likely to be infested with ticks. By contrast, faster explorers did not have higher tick burdens. Tick burden was nevertheless moderately repeatable among individuals. Our results imply that animal personality influences the probability of parasite infestation, and that infestation likelihood versus intensity are determined by distinct mechanisms. Our work highlights the importance of animal behaviour to understand parasite infestation in wild populations.
doi:10.1007/s00265-021-02972-y fatcat:hfdjtf2mhrcjrpkmeg7i43e7ci