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The role of parasitism in the energy management of a free-ranging bird [RESEARCH ARTICLE]



Olivia Hicks, Sarah J. Burthe, Francis Daunt, Mark Newell, Olivier Chastel, Charline Parenteau, and Jonathan A. Green

Parasites often prompt sub-lethal costs to their hosts by eliciting immune responses. These costs can be hard to quantify but are crucial to our understanding of the host’s ecology. Energy is a fundamental currency to quantify these costs, as energetic trade-offs often exist between key fitness-related processes. Daily energy expenditure (DEE) comprises of resting metabolic rate (RMR) and energy available for activity, which are linked via the energy management strategy of an organism. Parasitism may play a role in the balance between self-maintenance and activity, as immune costs can be expressed in elevated RMR. Therefore, understanding energy use in the presence of parasitism enables mechanistic elucidation of potential parasite costs. Using a gradient of natural parasite load and proxies for RMR and DEE in a wild population of breeding European shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), we tested the effect of parasitism on maintenance costs as well as the relationship between proxies for RMR and DEE. We found a positive relationship between parasite load and our RMR proxy in females but not males, and no relationship between proxies for RMR and DEE. This provides evidence for increased maintenance costs in individuals with higher parasite loads and suggests the use of an allocation energy management strategy, whereby an increase to RMR creates restrictions on energy allocation to other activities. This is likely to have fitness consequences as energy allocated to immunity is traded off against reproduction. Our findings demonstrate that understanding energy management strategies alongside fitness drivers is central to understanding the mechanisms by which these drivers influence individual fitness.

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