Epidermiology and conservation implications of Trichomonas gallinae infection in the endangered Mauritian pink pigeon

N Bunbury, CG Jones, AG Greenwood, DJ Bell

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Despite increasing recognition of the role of exotic pathogens in species decline, comprehensive studies of wildlife disease epidemiology in threatened species are rare. We investigated the epidemiology of the protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae, which causes the avian disease trichomonosis, in the five wild subpopulations of the endangered pink pigeon Columba mayeri in Mauritius. An average of 89% of the entire population was screened for T. gallinae infection every 2 months between September 2002 and April 2004. A total of 426 individual pink pigeons (all >3 months of age) was screened, and 359 (84.3%) of these tested positive for T. gallinae at least once. Average prevalence of T. gallinae infection across all subpopulations and sampling periods was 50.3% but ranged from 19.6% to 82.4%. Trichomonas gallinae infection was significantly different among subpopulations and prevalence gradually decreased over the entire screening period. Infection prevalence also increased with host age. Observed pathogenicity of T. gallinae was low; active trichomonosis signs were recorded in ca. 1.9% of birds which tested positive. However, birds which persistently tested positive for T. gallinae (33.5% of birds screened) were at least 10% less likely to survive 2 yrs post-screening than birds which tested negative at least once in three consecutive periods; a finding which should be considered by wildlife disease investigators if no pathogenic effects are apparent from the results of studies based on a single screening episode. We conclude that T. gallinae is an additional population limiting factor for pink pigeons and our study highlights the importance of screening other endangered columbids for this pathogen.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-161
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2008

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