Epidemiology of parasite infections in wild bird populations

Rationale

Parasite infections are widespread in wild bird populations, yet we know surprisingly little about how infections and their transmission are affected by changes in the environment such as a reduction in food availability, or climate variation. We also know remarkably little about what life stage is initially affected by parasite infections (ie whether infection occurs in the nest), how diet affects infection or transmission, or how infections vary throughout the life of individual birds.

Plan of work and impact of our studies

This work will investigate the effects of food availability, diet quality, and climate on parasite infections and their transmission in wild bird communities. The work will involve capturing birds using standard techniques such as mist netting, by trained and licenced personnel, and taking measurements along with a small blood sample and an oral swab to look for blood parasites and Trichomonas gallinae parasites respectively. Birds will be fitted with metal rings that will allow us to identify individuals if they are recaptured. This work will provide novel insights into the dynamics and transmission of parasites in wild populations, and allow us to see whether changing management practices in terms of food provision might alter the course of parasite infections in wildlife. The work will also allow us to see how climate change might affect the dynamics of parasite infections in wild populations.

Animal welfare

This work will involve taking a small blood sample and an oral swab from wild birds. These are commonly used procedures with no long-term adverse effects. The procedures take a very short time, and after checking that each bird is healthy it will be released back into the wild at the capture site.

Non-technical summary 

Read epidemiology of parasite infections in wild bird populations non-technical summary (PDF).

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