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Hitch-hiking with birds for life
Date:5/14/2012

Although chewing lice spend their entire lives as parasites on birds, it is difficult to predict patterns of lice distribution, new research from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, reveals.

Researcher Daniel Gustafsson has studied chewing lice on sandpipers around the world and investigated how host birds' migration patterns affect louse distribution and reationships.

With no wings and very small eyes, chewing lice are, by and large, helpless away from their host.

Daniel Gustafsson has studied species of chewing lice that live on the birds' wings and compared them with species that live on their body feathers.

"Given that chewing lice are almost totally dependent on direct contact between two birds to spread, lice that sit on birds' wings should find it easier to use occasional contact between two hosts to spread than those that sit closer to birds' bodies," Daniel Gustafsson says.

Unexpected results

But contrary to expectation, it would appear that body lice can spread more easily than wing lice, even though they live on parts of their host that less frequently come into contact with other birds.

"This is surprising as body lice should be more limited to one particular species of bird," Daniel Gustafsson says. "The real opportunities for spreading should be between parents and their offspring in the nest, or between adult birds during mating."

Genetic and morphological data from two different genera show complicated patterns.

"Wing lice from small bird host species are found on more host species than those that parasitize larger bird host species," Daniel Gustafsson says.

Genetically almost identical

Another unexpected result is that the body lice on almost all sandpipers worldwide, with the exception of those on dunlins and ruffs, are genetically almost identical.

"Sandpipers are incredibly mobile," Daniel Gustafsson says. "They breed ar
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Contact: Daniel Gustafsson
daniel.gustafsson@bioenv.gu.se
46-031-786-3666
University of Gothenburg
Source:Eurekalert  

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