Wildlife disease ecology in changing landscapes: Mesopredator release and toxoplasmosis
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Changing ecosystem dynamics are increasing the threat of disease epidemics arising in wildlife populations. Several recent disease outbreaks have highlighted the critical need for understanding pathogen dynamics, including the role host densities play in disease transmission. In Australia, introduced feral cats are of immense concern because of the risk they pose to native wildlife through predation and competition. They are also the only known definitive host of the coccidian parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, the population-level impacts of which are unknown in any species. Australia's native wildlife have not evolved in the presence of cats or their parasites, and feral cats may be linked with several native mammal declines and extinctions. In Tasmania there is emerging evidence that feral cat populations are increasing following wide-ranging and extensive declines in the apex predator, the Tasmanian devil, from a consistently fatal transmissible cancer. We assess whether feral cat density is associated with the seroprevalence of T. gondii in native wildlife to determine whether an increasing population of feral cats may correspond to an increased level of risk to naive native intermediate hosts. We found evidence that seroprevalence of T. gondii in Tasmanian pademelons was lower in the north-west of Tasmania than in the north-east and central regions where cat density was higher. Also, samples obtained from road-killed animals had significantly higher seroprevalence of T. gondii than those from culled individuals, suggesting there may be behavioural differences associated with infection. In addition, seroprevalence in different trophic levels was assessed to determine whether position in the food-web influences exposure risk. Higher order carnivores had significantly higher seroprevalence than medium-sized browser species. The highest seroprevalence observed in an intermediate host was 71% in spotted-tailed quolls (Dasyurus maculatus), the largest mammalian mesopredator, in areas of low cat density. Mesopredator release of cats may be a significant issue for native species conservation, potentially affecting the population viability of many endangered species.
International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife
© 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of Australian Society for Parasitology. This is an open access article under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/) that permits non-commercial distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Invasive Species Ecology