Parasite Manipulation Experiments and Mechanisms in Colorado Barn Swallows
While the overarching question of my PhD was focused on the role of parasites in speciation, and involves large comparative work across the barn swallow species complex, I was still very interested in uncovering the mechanisms behind the broad patterns that I found. While this is not always feasible to do across four countries, it is possible to get down to the details with my local population of barn swallows in Colorado.
I have found that the parasite that has the largest impact on Colorado barn swallows is the nest mite. These are small blood feeding ectoparasites that live in barn swallow nests and feed on nestlings. In order to determine the impacts that these mites have on nestlings, I did several experiments where I removed mites from nests by heating them up with a heatgun (a method I invented with my dad), and adding set numbers of live mites into half of my experimental nests.
I have used this experimental setup to look at how parasites impact nestling development, physiology, immune responses, survival, and sexual trait development, as well as how mites impact adult behaviors like territory settlement, incubation, and provisioning.
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