A review of the nest protection hypothesis: Does inclusion of fresh green plant material in birds' nests reduce parasite infestation?

James F. Scott-Baumann*, Eric R. Morgan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

9 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The use of aromatic plants and their essential oils for ectoparasite treatment is a field of growing interest. Several species of birds regularly introduce aromatic herbs into their nests putatively to reduce parasites. The behaviour is most often seen in cavity nesting birds and after nest building has finished. The plants are included in a non-structural manner and are often strongly aromatic. Various different hypotheses have been proposed regarding the function of this behaviour; from the plants altering some non-living factor in the nest (crypsis, water loss and insulation hypotheses) to them being involved in mate selection (mate hypothesis) or even having a beneficial effect, direct or indirect, on chicks (drug or nest protection hypothesis, NPH). Many studies have been carried out over the years observing and experimentally testing these hypotheses. This review focuses on studies involving the most popular of these hypotheses, the NPH: that plants decrease nest parasites or pathogens, thereby conveying positive effects to the chicks, allowing the behaviour to evolve. Studies providing observational evidence towards this hypothesis and those experimentally testing it are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1016-1023
Number of pages8
JournalParasitology
Volume142
Issue number8
Early online date25 Mar 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015

Keywords

  • aromatic
  • blue tit
  • nest protection
  • nesting material
  • starling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Infectious Diseases

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