In all animals, susceptibility to parasites can differ among individuals. Young, nest-bound birds are exposed to a diversity of nest-dwelling ectoparasites that typically feed on their blood. Within broods, hatching asynchrony creates size hierarchies that result in morphological and physiological variation among nest mates, and susceptibility to parasites also may vary predictably with this size hierarchy. Our objective was to use a broad-spectrum, anti-parasite drug, ivermectin (IVM), to treat individual nestling Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) and assess how nestling susceptibility to parasites varied both within and among broods. Broods were either assigned to an IVM group, where half of the nestlings in a brood received IVM injections and half received control injections of pure sesame oil, or to a control group, where all nestlings received oil injections. We found that the IVM treatment reduced parasite loads for broods as a whole, thereby benefiting all nestlings in IVM broods and suggesting our treatment resulted in herd immunity. Specifically, nestlings from IVM broods had higher hemoglobin concentrations, regardless of whether they received injections with IVM or oil, and greater fledging success, than nestlings from control broods. On the contrary, IVM treatment did not strongly affect nestling morphology, with only marginal effects on the growth rate of ninth primary feathers, and the effects of the treatment on 2 other morphological traits depending on temporal factors. Variation in size within broods, however, influenced the chance of an individual fledging, which increased with relative size within a brood, but only under lower parasite loads (i.e. IVM broods). By experimentally manipulating nestling susceptibility to parasites, we have demonstrated variation in nestling response to an anti-parasite treatment both within and among broods, and future studies should investigate the underlying mechanism for why certain nestlings along the brood size hierarchy are more susceptible to parasites.
Vol. 137 • No. 2
Vol. 137 • No. 2