Although often overlooked in ecological research, parasites can greatly influence the behavior, condition and survival of their hosts. Given that natural communities often have multiple parasites feeding on most hosts, understanding whether these parasites have interacting effects, and the nature and magnitude of these effects, is a critical issue in ecology.
In my study system in Magdalena, Argentina, I am investigating how chalk-browed mockingbirds deal with two very different types of parasites. One is a parasitic fly, Philornis seguyi, whose larvae feed on the blood of mockingbird nestlings. The other parasite is a shiny cowbird, and is considered a brood parasite because it lays its eggs in other birds' nests for the host adults to rear their parasitic offspring. I am interested in studying the effects of these parasites on their mockingbird hosts, and how mockingbirds may defend themselves against these ecologically distinct parasites.
Photo: chalk-browed mockingbird clutch containing seven shiny cowbird (parasitic) eggs and two chalk-browed mockingbird (host) eggs. Reserva Natural El Destino, Argentina, 2017.