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Isotope signatures in winter moulted feathers predict malaria prevalence in a breeding avian host

  • Elizabeth Yohannes
  • Bengt Hansson
  • Raymond W. Lee
  • Jonas Waldenstrom
  • Helena Westerdahl
  • Mikael Åkesson
  • Dennis Hasselquist
  • Staffan Bensch
Publishing year: 2008
Language: English
Pages: 299-306
Publication/Series: Oecologia
Volume: 158
Issue: 2
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Springer

Abstract english

It is widely accepted that animal distribution and migration strategy might have co-evolved in relation to selection pressures exerted by parasites. Here, we first determined the prevalence and types of malaria blood parasites in a breeding population of great reed warblers Acrocephalus arundinaceus using PCR. Secondly, we tested for differences in individual feather stable isotope signatures (delta C-13, delta N-15, delta D and delta S-34) to investigate whether malaria infected and non-infected birds had occupied different areas in winter. We show that birds moulting in Afro-tropical habitats with significantly higher delta C-13 and delta N-15 but lower delta D and delta S-34 values were more frequently infected with malaria parasites. Based on established patterns of isotopic distributions, our results indicate that moulting sites with higher incidence of malaria are generally drier and situated further to the north in West Africa than sites with lower incidence of malaria. Our findings are pertinent to the general hypothesis that animal distribution and particularly avian migration strategy might evolve in response to selection pressures exerted by parasites at different geographic scales. Tradeoffs between investment in energy demanding life history traits (e.g. migration and winter moult) and immune function are suggested to contribute to the particular choice of habitat during migration and at wintering sites.


  • Biological Sciences
  • malaria
  • Stable isotopes
  • Avian
  • Great reed warbler
  • Moult
  • Bird migration


  • Centre for Animal Movement Research
  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 1432-1939
Dennis Hasselquist
E-mail: dennis [dot] hasselquist [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se



+46 46 222 37 08



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