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Parasite-host interactions in an arctic goose colony



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The arctic is currently experiencing some of the greatest rates of warming. Newly emerging diseases in the arctic are of particular interest due to the implications these may have at southern latitudes if temperatures continue to rise around the globe. It is important to document changes in pathogen populations, such as alterations in range, virulence, prevalence, and abundance, and the effect these may have on their host populations. Parasites influence the reproductive success of their hosts in some cases. Studies on impacts of ectoparasites on avian reproductive success have generally been focused on species with altricial young. I studied the abundance of an apparently newly emerging nest-parasite and the effects of this parasite on Ross’s (Chen rossii) and lesser snow goose (Chen caerulescens caerulescens) reproductive success in the Karrak Lake goose colony, Nunavut, Canada from 2001 to 2004. The nest parasite, identified as the flea Ceratophyllus vagabundus vagabundus, was associated with goose eggs covered with spots of blood. The proportion of goose egg-shells covered by blood was positively correlated with flea abundance in the nest. This relationship allowed the use egg blood-coverage as an index of flea abundance for remaining analyses. Flea abundance in goose nests was associated with variables associated with the host and the host’s habitat. I used general linear models in conjunction with Akaike’s information criterion (AIC) to determine which factors were most important in influencing flea abundance in goose nests. The most parsimonious model to explain the relationship between egg blood coverage and flea abundance in goose nests included goose clutch size, age of nest bowl (new vs. old), history of nesting by geese on a specific plot within the colony, habitat within 0.5m of nest, and year. The best predictor of flea abundance was the age of the nest bowl, with nest bowls re-used by geese containing more fleas than new bowls. This relationship was expected as fleas over-wintered in goose nests at the Karrak Lake colony. Logistic regression and AIC were used to determine whether egg blood-coverage was an important variable influencing nest success. All top five models included blood-coverage. Goose nest success was negatively influenced by fleas in most years. There was a threshold of egg blood-coverage at which nest success was affected, and this threshold varied, with >20% blood indicating a significant decline in nest success in two years, and >5% blood-coverage indicating a decrease in nest success in one year. To my knowledge, this is the first study that has examined the parasites of avian nests in an arctic ecosystem and was also the first to investigate the effect of nest parasites on birds with precocial young. More research is needed to determine what factors limit this flea population and whether fleas may become a regulating factor for geese in the Karrak Lake colony.



Ceratophyllus vagabundus, Chen caerulescens caerulescens, Chen rossii, reproduction, parasite abundance, nest success, host-parasite interactions, goose, flea, ectoparasite



Master of Science (M.Sc.)







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