Evolutionary ecology of bird-parasite associations
This thesis investigates the ecological determinants of chewing louse (Insecta: Phthiraptera) host-specificity on four species of Malaysian swiftlets (Aves: Apodidae). Influences of host coloniality on louse ecology were also demonstrated, illustrating the dependence which these permanent ectoparasites have on their hosts. Louse collections were made to look for incidences of host-specific lice occurring on the "wrong" host ("straggling"). Straggling was observed, implying that lice disperse among host species. Thus, opportunity for louse dispersal (or lack thereof) does not govern the host-specificity of chewing lice on swiftlets. Experimental transfers of lice between hosts were conducted. Louse survival was reduced on foreign host species. This implies adaptation to specific host characters, suggesting that specialisation governs chewing louse host-specificity on swiftlets. There was no evidence for reciprocal adaptation of swiftlets to their normal louse species. Lice had no impact on the fitness of either swiftlets or the related common swift. Furthermore, neither swiftlet nor swift lice were transmitting pathogenic endoparasites. This implies that chewing lice and Malaysian swiftlets have not "coevolved". Survival of transferred lice was determined by the relatedness of donor and recipient hosts. Closer related swiftlet species are more similar in body size and feather dimensions. When the feather dimensions of the microhabitat distributions of the same louse species on different hosts were compared the results suggested that lice keep the dimensions of barb and barbule diameter, at which they occur, "constant" through microhabitat shifts. This suggests that feather dimensions are the host characters which determine the survival (and host-specificity) of chewing lice on birds. The ability of chewing lice to survive on hosts with similar feather morphology implies that "host-switching", between distantly related hosts with similar morphological characters (due to parallel or convergent host evolution), may have been an important factor in the evolution of bird-louse associations.