Scientists have developed a new method for studying parasite numbers in the stomachs of individual seabirds in the wild. The technique enables the recording of video footage of worms inside seabird stomachs and is an important step forward in understanding the impact of parasites on seabird populations. The research is published today (13 December 2012) in the scientific journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.
The research team trialled the use of endoscopy, often used in human and veterinary medicine but rarely in field situations, to measure natural parasite loads, or burdens, of European shags, a member of the cormorant family. The new study is part of ongoing work into how different factors such as gut parasites might affect the breeding success or survival of seabirds.
Shags have nematode worms (Contracaecum rudolphii) in their stomachs, obtained from their fish diet. These worms feed directly on food obtained by the birds, reducing for the food available to both parent and chicks.
The team behind today's study was led by Dr Sarah Burthe from the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) in the UK. Dr Burthe and colleagues from CEH collaborated with scientists from the University of Edinburgh (UK), Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland (UK), Aarhus University, (Denmark) and the Natural History Museum, London (UK). The study was carried out on the Isle of May NNR, an important seabird colony off the east coast of Scotland which has been intensively studied since the 1970s.
Dr Burthe said, "Endoscopy is used routinely in veterinary and human medicine but to our knowledge has not been used to measure parasites in wild animals. Our new method using an endoscope is a rapid, reliable and repeatable way of looking at gut parasites in European shags which has no obvious adverse effects."
The study found that all birds had parasites ranging from low burdens of several worms through to high burdens of
|Contact: Dr Barnaby Smith|
Centre for Ecology & Hydrology