Research Article

Comparative effects of mites and lice on the reproductive success of rock doves (Columba livia)

D. H. Claytona1 and D. M. Tompkinsa1

a1 Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK


We report experimental data comparing the effects of Mesostigmatid mites and Ischnoceran lice on the reproductive performance of a single group of captive rock doves (Columba livia). Several components of host reproductive success were compared for the two groups, including number of eggs laid, hatching success, nestling growth rates, fledging success, post-fledging body mass and survival. Adult body mass and survival were also compared. There was a dramatic difference in the effects of the mites and lice. The former drove host reproductive success to zero, mainly by agitating adults and causing them to incubate eggs less faithfully. Nestling growth rates and post-fledging survival were also significantly reduced by mites. Lice showed no effect on reproductive success whatsoever, even though the feather damage they cause is known to have energetic consequences (Booth, Clayton & Block, 1993). Neither parasite had a significant effect on adult birds. Although Ischnocera are found on most species of birds, our results for lice constitute the first experimental test of the impact of Ischnocera on avian reproductive success (preliminary report by Clayton & Tompkins, 1994). We discuss reasons for the different effects of mites and lice, including the relationship of horizontal (mites) and vertical (lice) transmission to the evolution of virulence.

(Received March 15 1994)

(Revised July 19 1994)

(Accepted July 19 1994)