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Parasitism, family conflict & success in a North Atlantic seabird

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Parasite infection often influences hosts’ fitness and life-history decisions, and hence population processes, but few empirical studies examine how parasitism interacts with other ecological influences on the success of wild hosts. Using field experiments in European shags, I have examined how parasitism interplays with conflict between family members over limited resources in a wild seabird, an ecologically important group in which the impacts of parasitism has received little attention. This talk explores how the impact of parasitism varies between individual hosts and with extrinsic influences, quantifying its immediate and longer-term impacts on host performance and life-history decisions. I show that parasitism is a key component of young shags’ developmental environment, interacting with prevailing conditions differently for chicks of different hatching order; that infection has greater impacts on the infected individual’s family members than on the individual itself; and that such indirect effects can persist beyond the breeding season to affect overwinter foraging and subsequent breeding performance. Parasite infection may thus play a substantial but underappreciated role in shaping demographically important traits in seabirds.

This talk is part of the British Antarctic Survey series.

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