A frequently hypothesized but poorly studied cost of multiple mating in birds is that exposure to pathogenic sexually transmitted microbes (STM's) can lower reproductive success. Conversely, female birds may benefit from high frequencies of copulation and multiple copulation partners if they receive cloacal inoculations of beneficial STM's that can either protect them against future encounters with pathogens and/or serve as therapy against present infection. We examined the semen of 30 male tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) in 1998 to determine the presence and prevalence of potential pathogenic and beneficial STM's. Semen was collected directly from males after applying gentle pressure to the cloaca and we used standard microbiological techniques to identify microbes. We found that 19 of 30 samples contained one or more types of microbes. In these 19 positive samples, we isolated both pathogenic and beneficial microbes from 11, only pathogenic microbes from seven, and only beneficial microbes from one. This variation among males suggests that females would benefit from considering a particular male's potential as a donor of either pathogenic or beneficial STM's as a criterion for mate choice. There were few significant differences between males with pathogen-infected semen and those without pathogens in their semen in measures of size, morphology, and ectoparasite score and feather damage. Likewise, there were few significant differences between males with beneficial Lactobacilli spp. in their semen and those without Lactobacilli spp. in their semen in measures of size, morphology, and ectoparasite score and feather damage. We were unable to determine if there was a relationship between microbe presence and prevalence on reproductive performance.
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