One way to get an understanding of the impact of parasites on breeding success and survival is to treat birds with an anti-parasite drug to reduce or remove worm burdens and then compare to untreated birds. However, until now the lack of a method to measure parasite numbers effectively has made it difficult to know whether such treatments have worked. The use of the endoscope enabled the researchers to conclude that, at a suitable dose, the anti-parasite drug completely removed nematode worms from the stomach of treated shags.
Study co-author Dr Francis Daunt, a population ecologist at the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said, "Being able to monitor individual parasite burdens is a major step forward in this field of research. We are hopeful this new technique could be applied to other wild animal systems, possibly including reptile, mammal and other bird hosts."
Dr Burthe added, "Endoscopy opens up some interesting research questions, enabling us to more fully explore the role parasites play in impacting the breeding success and survival of seabirds, particularly how impacts may vary with changes in prey availability."
Why use endoscopy to study parasites in wild seabirds?
Parasites are an important part of ecosystems, occurring in all wild animal species and playing an important part in the evolutionary process. Relatively few studies have focussed on gut parasites in wild animals, in part because it is very difficult to measure parasite levels in hosts without resorting to examining animal carcasses or counting eggs in faeces, both of which can be unreliable measures. Some previous ways of studying parasites in wild populations have involved killing birds.
The endoscopy method is rapid and well suited to species that routinely swallow large prey
|Contact: Dr Barnaby Smith|
Centre for Ecology & Hydrology