Abstract

There is limited information about the natural history of the transmission of feather lice (Phthiraptera) from parent birds to their young. This article therefore examines the transmission of 4 species of feather lice from parent blackbirds to their nestlings in an English population, and addresses questions formulated from the perspective of the lice. The lice that disperse onto the several young in the nest were mostly found on the larger chicks, those with higher survival prospects. The lice dispersing to chicks were overwhelmingly nymphs, which cannot be sexed morphologically, and so the prediction that the adult lice dispersing would be disproportionately female, potential founders of a new population, was only supported for the most numerous species, Brueelia merulensis. There was no evidence that louse dispersal to chicks was density dependent and more likely when the parents were more heavily infested. Finally, I predicted that lice might aggregate on female blackbirds, which undertake more brooding, to increase their chance of transmission to nestlings. For 1 louse species, B. merulensis, prevalence, but not louse intensity, was higher on female than male blackbirds. For 2 other louse species, Philopterus turdi and Menacanthus eurysternus, no differences between male and female blackbirds were detected.

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