Age-dependent health status and song characteristics in the barn swallow
Bird song has been hypothesized to evolve, partly, to signal health status of males, and song features should therefore correlate with parasite load. Immune function, parasitism, and secondary sexual characters can, however, differ between age classes, and any apparent relationship between song and parasite loads can be the result of systematic age effects. We tested for an age-dependent relationship between sexually selected characters and measures of parasitism in a Spanish population of the barn swallow Hirundo rustica. A comparison across age classes revealed that chewing lice load, song duration, mean peak amplitude frequency of songs, and tail length differed significantly between yearlings and adults. In a longitudinal analysis, we found significant evidence for mean peak amplitude frequency of songs, tail length and chewing louse parasitism, and a nonsignificant tendency for song duration to change with age of an individual. We found a significant association between song duration and chewing louse load and between hematocrit and peak amplitude frequency of the rattle, the typical harsh terminal syllable. In tests for associations between song traits and health status, while controlling for age, age and chewing louse load were independently related to song duration. We found a significant relationship between pairing success and song duration, implying that females may use this song trait in their choice of parasite-free males. Although the song of the barn swallow may provide information about both male age and parasite resistance, signaling of health status appears to be independent of age effects, in accordance with the theory of parasite-mediated sexual selection, suggesting that male signals can be used as reliable indicators of parasitism. Copyright 2005.
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Volume (Year): 16 (2005)
Issue (Month): 3 (May)
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