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Title: Haematophagous ectoparasites lower survival of and have detrimental physiological effects on golden eagle nestlings
Abstract Haematophagous ectoparasites can directly affect the health of young animals by depleting blood volume and reducing energetic resources available for growth and development. Less is known about the effects of ectoparasitism on stress physiology (i.e. glucocorticoid hormones) or animal behaviour. Mexican chicken bugs (Haematosiphon inodorus; Hemiptera: Cimicidae) are blood-sucking ectoparasites that live in nesting material or nest substrate and feed on nestling birds. Over the past 50 years, the range of H. inodorus has expanded, suggesting that new hosts or populations may be vulnerable. We studied the physiological and behavioural effects of H. inodorus on golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) nestlings in southwestern Idaho. We estimated the level of H. inodorus infestation at each nest and measured nestling mass, haematocrit, corticosterone concentrations, telomere lengths and recorded early fledging and mortality events. At nests with the highest levels of infestation, nestlings had significantly lower mass and haematocrit. In addition, highly parasitized nestlings had corticosterone concentrations twice as high on average (42.9 ng/ml) than non-parasitized nestlings (20.2 ng/ml). Telomeres of highly parasitized female nestlings significantly shortened as eagles aged, but we found no effect of parasitism on the telomeres of male nestlings. Finally, in nests with higher infestation levels, eagle nestlings were 20 times more more » likely to die, often because they left the nest before they could fly. These results suggest that H. inodorus may limit local golden eagle populations by decreasing productivity. For eagles that survived infestation, chronically elevated glucocorticoids and shortened telomeres may adversely affect cognitive function or survival in this otherwise long-lived species. Emerging threats from ectoparasites should be an important management consideration for protected species, like golden eagles. « less
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Cooke, Steven
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Conservation Physiology
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National Science Foundation
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