Of fleas and geese: the impact of an increasing nest ectoparasite on reproductive success

Authors

  • Vanessa B. Harriman,

  • Ray T. Alisauskas


V. B. Harriman (vanessa.harriman@usask.ca), Dept of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, 112 Science Place, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N 5E2, Canada. – R. T. Alisauskas, Environment Canada, Prairie and Northern Wildlife Research Centre, 115 Perimeter Road, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N 0X4, Canada, and Dept of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, 112 Science Place, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N 5E2, Canada.

Abstract

Past studies on the relationship between nest ectoparasites and avian fitness have been primarily limited to altricial hosts. Life history strategies of precocial and altricial birds vary considerably, limiting our ability to infer the effect of nest parasites on fitness of precocial species. Ross's Chen rossii and lesser snow goose Chen caerulescens caerulescens populations have been growing at unprecedented high rates. New limiting factors on vital rates of these precocial birds may arise after populations have been released from previously regulating factors. The flea Ceratophyllus vagabundus vagabundus is an apparently newly emerging nest parasite in the arctic goose colony at Karrak Lake, Nunavut, Canada. We examined the relationship between flea abundance (measured by the proportion of goose eggs covered by blood in each nest) and goose reproductive success from 2001–2004. In three of four years of study, nest success was inversely related to flea abundance in nests. Despite the potential for high costs to individuals, the overall effects of fleas on goose nesting success have thus far been small. We demonstrated that nest parasites negatively influence reproductive success of precocial bird hosts despite host life history strategy of leaving the nest quickly after hatch, which results in minimal exposure to nest parasites compared to altricial birds that raise their young in the nest.

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