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Is there a cost of parasites to caribou?

  • J. HUGHES (a1), S. D. ALBON (a1), R. J. IRVINE (a1) and S. WOODIN (a1)

Macroparasites potentially play a significant but often ignored role in the ecology and dynamics of wild ruminant populations. In the Arctic, parasites may impact on host populations by exacerbating the effects of seasonal and limited forage availability on the condition, fecundity and survival of individuals. We studied the effects of abomasal nematode parasites and warble flies, Hypoderma tarandi, on condition and pregnancy of caribou Rangifer tarandus in the Dolphin-Union herd, Nunavut, Canada. By the end of winter, female caribou over 2 years old showed a significant decrease in body weight with increasing nematode burden, and a decrease in back fat depth with increasing warble abundance. These effects were exaggerated in the non-pregnant fraction of the population. High warble larvae burdens were also associated with significantly reduced probability of being pregnant. Our research demonstrates a negative relationship between parasites and caribou condition that may have consequences for their fitness. Additionally, we discuss the possibility that muskox Ovibos moschatus share some parasite species with the caribou and could lead to elevated burdens in the sympatric host. Parasites may have been a contributory factor in a previous winter range-shift of the caribou herd and this may reflect a form of apparent competition between the two ungulate species.

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*Corresponding author: Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Zoology Department, University of Oxford, UK. E-mail:
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