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Environmental conditions predict helminth prevalence in red foxes in Western Australia

Dybing, N.A., Fleming, P.A. and Adams, P.J. (2013) Environmental conditions predict helminth prevalence in red foxes in Western Australia. International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife, 2 . pp. 165-172.

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Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are the most common and widely distributed wild carnivore worldwide. These predators harbour a wide range of parasites, many of which may have important conservation, agricultural and zoonotic repercussions. This project investigated the occurrence of helminth parasites from the intestines of 147 red foxes across 14 sampling localities of southwest Western Australia. Helminth parasites were detected in 58% of fox intestines: Dipylidium caninum (27.7% of foxes), Uncinaria stenocephala (18.2%), Toxocara canis (14.9%), Spirometra erinaceieuropaei (5.4%), Toxascaris leonina (4.7%), Taenia serialis (1.4%), Taenia hydatigena (0.7%), unidentified Taenia spp. (4.1%), Brachylaima cribbi (0.7%), Plagiorchis maculosus (0.7%) and an Acanthocephalan; family Centrorhynchidae (2.1%). Importantly, two cestodes of agricultural significance, Echinococcus granulosus and Taenia ovis, were not detected in red foxes in this study, despite the presence of suitable intermediate hosts in the diets of these animals. Parasite richness varied from 1–3 species per host, with average parasite number varying from 1–39 worms (across all helminth species). Regression analyses indicated that the presence of four helminth parasites was related to various environmental factors. The presence of S. erinaceieuropaei (p < 0.001), T. leonina (p < 0.01) and U. stenocephala (p < 0.01) was positively associated with average relative humidity which may affect the longevity of infective stages in the environment. The presence of S. erinaceieuropaei and U. stenocephala (p < 0.001) was positively associated with 5-y-average minimum temperature which could reflect poor survival of infective stages through cold winter conditions. The presence of T. canis and U. stenocephala (p < 0.001) was positively associated with the percentage cover of native vegetation at each sampling location, which is likely to reflect transmission from native prey species acting as paratenic hosts. These data identify environmental factors affecting transmission and potential distribution of each parasite taxon, and provide important information increasing our understanding of the potential effects of environmental change on parasite ecology.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Elsevier Limited
Copyright: © 2013 The Authors.
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