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Journal Article

Forests of opportunities and mischief: disentangling the interactions between forests, parasites and immune responses


Kaiser,  Sonja
Emeritus Group, Prof. E.-D. Schulze, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Renner, S. C., Lüdtke, B., Kaiser, S., Kienle, J., Schaefer, H. M., Segelbacher, G., et al. (2016). Forests of opportunities and mischief: disentangling the interactions between forests, parasites and immune responses. International Journal for Parasitology, 46(9), 571-579. doi:10.1016/j.ijpara.2016.04.008.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002B-8129-6
Habitat characteristics determine the presence of individuals through resource availability, but at the same time, such features also influence the occurrence of parasites. We analyzed how birds respond to changes in interior forest structures, to forest management regimes, and to the risk of haemosporidian infections. We captured and took blood samples from blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) and chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) in three different forest types (beech, mixed deciduous, spruce). We measured birds’ body asymmetries, detected avian haemosporidians, and counted white blood cells as an immune measure of each individual per forest type. We used, to our knowledge for the first time, continuous forest structural parameters to quantify habitat structure, and found significant effects of habitat structure on parasite prevalence that previously have been undetected. We found three times higher prevalence for blackcaps compared with chaffinches. Parasite intensity varied significantly within host species depending on forest type, being lowest in beech forests for both host species. Structurally complex habitats with a high degree of entropy had a positive effect on the likelihood of acquiring an infection, but the effect on prevalence was negative for forest sections with a south facing aspect. For blackcaps, forest gaps also had a positive effect on prevalence, but canopy height had a negative one. Our results suggest that forest types and variations in forest structure influence the likelihood of acquiring an infection, which subsequently has an influence on host health status and body condition; however, responses to some environmental factors are host-specific.