Impacts of parasites in early life: Contrasting effects on juvenile growth for different family members

T. Reed, F. Daunt, A.J. Kiploks, S.J. Burthe, H.M.V. Granroth-Wilding, E.A. Takahashi, M. Newell, S. Wanless, E.J.A. Cunningham

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Parasitism experienced early in ontogeny can have a major impact on host growth, development and future fitness, but whether siblings are affected equally by parasitism is poorly understood. In birds, hatching asynchrony induced by hormonal or behavioural mechanisms largely under parental control might predispose young to respond to infection in different ways. Here we show that parasites can have different consequences for offspring depending on their position in the family hierarchy. We experimentally treated European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristoteli) nestlings with the broad-spectrum anti-parasite drug ivermectin and compared their growth rates with nestlings from control broods. Average growth rates measured over the period of linear growth (10 days to 30 days of age) and survival did not differ for nestlings from treated and control broods. However, when considering individuals within broods, parasite treatment reversed the patterns of growth for individual family members: last-hatched nestlings grew significantly slower than their siblings in control nests but grew faster in treated nests. This was at the expense of their earlier-hatched brood-mates, who showed an overall growth rate reduction relative to last-hatched nestlings in treated nests. These results highlight the importance of exploring individual variation in the costs of infection and suggest that parasites could be a key factor modulating within-family dynamics, sibling competition and developmental trajectories from an early age.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere32236
JournalPLoS One
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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