Vertical transmission in feather mites: insights into its adaptive value


The consequences of symbiont transmission strategies are better understood than their adaptive causes.Feather mites are permanent ectosymbionts of birds assumed to be transmitted mainly vertically from parents to offspring. The transmission of Proctophyllodes doleophyes Gaud (Astigmata, Proctophyllodidae) was studied in two European populations of pied flycatchers, Ficedula hypoleuca Pallas (Passeriformes, Muscicapidae). The vertical transmission of this mite species is demonstrated here with an acaricide experiment. This study also compared (for two distant populations during 4 years) patterns in reductions in mite intensity in adult birds, from egg incubation to chick-rearing periods, with the predictions of three hypotheses on how host survival prospects and mite intraspecific competition might drive feather mites’ transmission strategy. The results are in agreement with previous studies and show that feather mites transmit massively from parents to chicks. The magnitude of the transmission was closer to that predicted by the hypothesis based on intraspecific competition, while a bet-hedging strategy is also partially supported.

Ecological Entomology.