Dispersal of avian ectoparasites can occur through either vertical transmission from adult birds to their offspring in the nest or through horizontal transmission between adult birds or through phoresy. In this study, we investigated the importance of the 2 main transmission modes in the colonial European bee-eater and examined whether individual differences in ectoparasite intensity exist in relation to age, sex, and morphological features of the birds. The intensity of 3 chewing lice species was investigated. Almost all adult bee-eaters (98.3%, n = 176) were infested with 1 of the 3 ectoparasite species, whereas only 10.8% (n = 167) of all chicks were infested. Meropoecus meropis was the most frequent ectoparasite species on adult bee-eaters (prevalence 94.3%), whereas Meromenopon meropis was the most common species on chicks (prevalence 9.6%). Our results suggest that chewing lice are mainly horizontally transmitted among adult bee-eaters and mainly among pair members, whereas vertical transmission between parents and nestlings is less frequent. These conclusions were supported by a relation in ectoparasite intensity of pair members and a parasite removal experiment. Ectoparasite intensity was in general low in nestlings and did not correlate with ectoparasite intensity of their parents. Host age, sex, weight, and other morphological features did not explain variation in chewing lice infestation.
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