Coevolutionary ecology & conservation of
Galápagos birds & their parasites

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This project, which is based in Utah and the Galápagos islands, is at the interface of coevolutionary ecology, immunology, behavior, and conservation biology. Although Darwin’s finches are one of the most famous examples of adaptive radiation, we know little about the role of parasites in their ecology, behavior and evolution. Unfortunately, finch populations have recently come under serious threat from the introduced tropical nest fly (Philornis downsi). A better understanding of this parasite is urgently needed because of the danger it poses to these iconic birds. The overriding goals of this project are: 1) to conduct rigorous tests of the impact of nest flies on Darwin's finches, 2) determine the ability of finches to defend themselves against nest flies, and 3) test indirect effects of reservoir fly hosts, such as Galápagos mockingbirds, on Darwin’s finches. The project focuses on interactions between nest flies, Medium ground finches (Geospiza fortis), and Galápagos mockingbirds (Mimus parvulus) on Santa Cruz Island. However, we are also studying interactions between other species of finches and their parasite communities in the Galápagos and elsewhere, including Trinidad/Tobago and Argentina. We hope this research will help conservation biologists make informed decisions for protecting Darwin's Finches and other birds from invasive parasites and pathogens.

Related publications

Please note that the PDFs are for personal use only, definitive versions are available from the publishers.

McNew, S. M., S. A. Knutie, G. B. Goodman, A. Theodosopoulos, A. Saulsberry, J. Yépez R., S. E. Bush, and D. H. Clayton. 2019. Annual environmental variation influences host tolerance to parasites. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B 286:20190049. PDF

Villa SM, Koop JAH, Le Bohec C, and Clayton DH. 2018. Beak of the pinch: anti-parasite traits are similar among Darwin’s finch species. Evolutionary Ecology 32:443-452. PDF

McNew, S. M. and D. H. Clayton. 2018. Alien invasion: Biology of Philornis flies highlighting P. downsi, an introduced parasite of Galapagos birds. Annual Review of Entomology 63:369-87. PDF

McNew, S. M., D. Beck, I. Sadler-Riggleman, S. A. Knutie, J. A. H. Koop, D. H. Clayton and M. K. Skinner. 2017. Epigenetic variation between urban and rural populations of Darwin’s finches. BMC Evolutionary Biology 17:183. DOI 10.1186/s12862-017-1025-9 PDF

Heimpel, G. E., A. Hillstrom, D. Freund, S. A. Knutie, and D. H. Clayton. 2017. Invasive parasites and the fate of Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands: the case of the Vegetarian Finch. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 129:345–349 PDF

Knutie, S. A., J. P. Owen, S. M. McNew, A. W. Bartlow, E. Arriero, J. M. Herman, E. Diblasi, M. Thompson, J. A. H. Koop and D. H. Clayton. 2016. Galápagos mockingbirds are tolerant hosts of introduced parasites that threaten Darwin’s finches. Ecology 97:940-950. PDF

Koop, J. A. H., P. S. Kim, S. A. Knutie, F. Adler and D. H. Clayton. 2015. Introduced parasitic fly may lead to local extinction of Darwin’s finch populations. Journal of Applied Ecology 53:511-518. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12575 PDF

Skinner, M. A., C. Gurerrero-Bosagna, Md M. Haque, E. E. Nilsson, J. A. H. Koop, Sarah A. Knutie and D. H. Clayton. 2014. Epigenetics and the evolution of Darwin's finches. Genome Biology and Evolution 6 1972-1989. PDF

Knutie, S.A., S.M. McNew, A.W. Bartlow, D.A. Vargas, D.H. Clayton. 2014 Darwin’s finches combat introduced nest parasites with fumigated cotton. Current Biology 24(9):R355–R356DOI: PDF

Koop, J. A. H., C. Le Bohec and D. H. Clayton. 2013. Dry year does not reduce invasive parasitic fly prevalence or abundance in Darwin’s finch nests. Reports in Parasitology 3: 11–17. PDF

Koop, J. A. H., J. P. Owen, S. A. Knutie, M. A. Aguilar and D. H. Clayton. 2013. Experimental demonstration of a parasite-induced immune response in wild birds: Darwin’s finches and introduced nest flies. Ecology and Evolution 3:2514-2523 DOI:10.1002/ece3.651 PDF

Knutie, S. A., J. A. H. Koop, S. S. French and D. H. Clayton. 2013. Experimental test of the effect of introduced hematophagous flies on the corticosterone levels of breeding Darwin’s finches. General and Comparative Endocrinology 193: 68-71. PDF

Villa, S. M., Le Bohec, C., Koop, J. A. H., Proctor, H. D., and D. H. Clayton. 2013. Diversity of feather mites (Acari: Astigmata) on Darwin's Finches. Journal of Parasitology 99:756-762. PDF

Koop, J. A. H., S. K. Huber, S. M. Laverty and D. H. Clayton. 2011. Experimental demonstration of the fitness consequences of an introduced parasite of Darwin's Finches. PLoS ONE 6: e19706. PDF

Owen, J.P., A. C. Nelson and D. H. Clayton. 2010. Ecological immunology of bird-ectoparasite systems. Trends in Parasitology 26: 530-539. PDF

Huber, S. K., J. P. Owen, A. H. Koop, M. O. King, P. R. Grant, B. R. Grant, and D. H. Clayton. 2010. Ecoimmunity in Darwin's finches: Invasive parasites trigger acquired immunity in the medium ground finch (Geospiza fortis). PLoS One 5: e8605.PDF




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