Interspecific parasite exchange in a mixed colony of birds.J Parasitol. 2003 Apr; 89(2):245-50.JP
Studies of avian host-parasite interactions rarely include consequences of relationships among hosts for either the host or parasite species. In this study, we examine the ectoparasitic burden of adult and nestling European bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) and rock sparrows (Petronia petronia) in a mixed colony. We found that (1) each bird species had its own species of lice; (2) hematophagous mites parasitized both adults and nestlings of both bird species; (3) Carnus hemapterus, a common parasite of nestling bee-eaters, also infested rock sparrow nestlings, a species not previously described as a host for this dipteran; and (4) whereas C. hemapterus did not show high host specificity within the colony, the emergence of adult flies was synchronized with the start of hatching in bee-eater nests. We suggest that coexistence of these 2 bird species results in parasite exchange, bee-eaters obtaining mites from sparrows and sparrows becoming infested by C. hemapterus. Differences in the detrimental effects of parasite transfer for each host species may result in a process of apparent competition mediated by shared parasites. Interspecific parasite exchange is an important aspect of host-parasite relationships in mixed colonies, which requires further attention.