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Data from: Parasites favor intermediate nestling masses and brood sizes in cliff swallows

Cite this dataset

Brown, Charles R.; Brown, Mary Bomberger (2017). Data from: Parasites favor intermediate nestling masses and brood sizes in cliff swallows [Dataset]. Dryad.


A challenge of life-history theory is to explain why animal body size does not continue to increase, given various advantages of larger size. In birds, body size of nestlings and the number of nestlings produced (brood size) have occasionally been shown to be constrained by higher predation on larger nestlings and those from larger broods. Parasites also are known to have strong effects on life-history traits in birds, but whether parasitism can be a driver for stabilizing selection on nestling body size or brood size is unknown. We studied patterns of first-year survival in cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) in western Nebraska in relation to brood size and nestling body mass in nests under natural conditions and in those in which hematophagous ectoparasites had been removed by fumigation. Birds from parasitized nests showed highest first-year survival at the most common, intermediate brood-size and nestling-mass categories, but cliff swallows from non-parasitized nests had highest survival at the heaviest nestling masses and no relationship with brood size. A survival analysis suggested stabilizing selection on brood size and nestling mass in the presence (but not in the absence) of parasites. Parasites apparently favor intermediate offspring size and number in cliff swallows and produce the observed distributions of these traits, although the mechanisms are unclear. Our results emphasize the importance of parasites in life-history evolution.

Usage notes


National Science Foundation, Award: DEB-1453971


Great Plains