-- It has long been recognized that nest depredation by olfactory-searching mammals greatly influences the reproductive success of ground-nesting birds. Yet adaptations of birds to diminish smell during nesting have rarely been investigated. Recently, a remarkable shift in the composition of uropygial gland secretions (preen waxes) was discovered in many ground-nesting shorebirds and ducks that begin incubation, during which the usual mixtures of monoester preen waxes are replaced by mixtures of less volatile diester waxes (see figure below). Reneerkens et al. (2005) showed experimentally that an olfactory-searching dog had greater difficulty detecting mixtures of the less volatile diesters than mixtures of monoesters. This is consistent with the hypothesis that diester preen waxes reduce birds' smell and thereby reduce predation risk (check !).
Blood-feeding nest mites can reduce the reproductive success of their hosts by slowing development or even killing chicks. For example, recent experimental work has shown that high densities of nest mites are associated with low hematocrit and small body size in Pied Flycatchers (), and low hatching success and postfledging survival in Rock Pigeons () and Barn Swallows (). By contrast, however, Darolová et al. (1997) observed a positive association between the percentage of Penduline Tit () nestlings that survived to fledging and the number of hematophagous mites in the nest. The authors suggest that nestling health determines mite load rather than vice versa. Other researchers have found no relationship between nest–parasite density and nesting success. Merino and Potti (1996) suggested that variable effects of nest parasites are, in part, a result of stochastic climatic factors, such as temperature and rainfall. More work is required to establish why the effects of nest mites on host reproductive success are so variable across studies. -- Proctor and Owens (2000).
The hypothesis of parasite-mediated ..
N2 - The Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis, that parasite-host coevolution can maintain heritable variation in fitness, has inspired a very successful research program on sexual selection on signals of health. The immunocompetence handicap hypothesis was developed to provide a handicapping mechanism to stabilize the correlation between signals and health. In earlier articles, I showed that handicap signaling is a special case, not a general law that we can rely on to deduce relative costs across signalers of different quality at equilibrium. The essential requirement for reliable signaling is that higher-quality signalers are more efficient; they get greater marginal fitness returns from an incremental increase in the signal. This does not undermine the Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis or the immunocompetence mechanism, but it does raise doubts about a widespread assumption that is commonly used to test these hypotheses: that sexual selection on signals of health implies the choice of mates with the fewest parasites. Immunity and parasites might play a fundamental role in many biological signaling systems, but viability-indicating traits are not necessarily parasite-load-indicating traits. Theory allows for the possibility that high-quality big signalers have greater health and more parasites than low-quality small signalers (and the data suggest that in many systems they do). This means that we cannot test the Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis or the immunocompetence handicap hypothesis by counting parasites. More generally, we cannot understand sexual selection on signals of health by focusing on the viability costs of signals.
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Several species of birds have blue eggs, and David Lack (1958) suggested that, in habitats where light levels are low, blue eggs might be cryptic. If true, that could help explain the blue eggs of some open-cup nesting birds that occur in forest habitats such as Wood Thrushes. However, Lack’s hypothesis cannot explain why some birds that nest in cavities, like European Starlings and Eastern Bluebirds, also have blue eggs. One hypothesis is that the blue-green color of eggshells represents a signal of female quality to their mates ( Moreno and Osorno 2003). The pigment responsible for the blue-green color is biliverdin, a substance produced when the hemoglobin of damaged red blood cells is catabolized and also known to have strong antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are important because they can convert free radicals, molecules that can damage DNA, proteins, and other macromolecules, into less reactive substances. Deposition of this pigment in eggshells by laying females may, therefore, signal their capacity to produce antioxidants and control free radicals. Male birds paired to females of such quality that they are able to deposit antioxidants in eggshells rather than retaining them may then expend greater effort in caring for their superior offspring (Kilner 2006). In support of this hypothesis, the provisioning rates of male Pied Flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) and the intensity of the blue coloration of eggs were found to be positively correlated (Moreno et al. 2004). Also, female Eastern Bluebirds in better body condition were found to lay more colorful eggs, supporting the hypothesis that biliverdin pigmentation in eggshells reflects female condition (Siefferman et al. 2006).