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Perturbations have minor impacts on parasite dynamics and body condition of an endangered marsupial

Jones, K.L., Rafferty, C., Hing, S., Thompson, R.C.A. and Godfrey, S.S. (2018) Perturbations have minor impacts on parasite dynamics and body condition of an endangered marsupial. Journal of Zoology, 305 (2). pp. 124-132.

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Wildlife populations are increasingly subjected to perturbations that can impact their health. Yet, research on the health of endangered species in the face of disturbance is rare. This study investigated the impact of reserve expansion and wildfire on parasitism and body condition in a critically endangered marsupial, the woylie (Bettongia penicillata). We expected parasite prevalence to change in response to perturbation-induced changes in parasite abundance and host behaviour, depending on the transmission mode of the parasite. Similarly, we expected changes in resource availability associated with fire to impact body condition of hosts. Over 2 years, 999 captures were made of 136 woylies in Whiteman Park, a fenced reserve in Western Australia. Animals were assessed for body condition and the presence of ectoparasites, with blood and faeces collected for laboratory testing for haemo- and endoparasites. Generalized linear mixed models were used to determine what factors influenced parasitism and body condition. In the first 3 months post-expansion, the percentage of woylies shedding Strongyloides-like nematode eggs increased, while strongyle-like and oxyurid nematodes decreased, and ticks and trypanosomes were unaffected. Immediately after the fire, the proportion of woylies with ticks decreased and those with lice increased, though not significantly; low sample sizes limited our power. Body condition increased by 4 months post-fire. We suggest the variable response of parasites to expansion is likely multi-faceted and may relate to factors such as species-specificity and environmental dispersal. Conversely, the response to fire was more consistent with our expectations. As both fire and reserve expansion are highly relevant perturbations for remaining woylie populations, it is encouraging that neither appeared to have significant negative impacts on woylie health. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study investigating changes in wildlife health parameters after reserve expansion.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Wiley
Copyright: © 2018 The Zoological Society of London
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