Detailed monitoring of a small but recovering population reveals sublethal effects of disease and unexpected interactions with supplemental feeding

Abstract

Infectious diseases are widely recognized to have substantial impact on wildlife populations. These impacts are sometimes exacerbated in small endangered populations, and therefore, the success of conservation reintroductions to aid the recovery of such species can be seriously threatened by outbreaks of infectious disease. Intensive management strategies associated with conservation reintroductions can further compound these negative effects in such populations. Exploring the sublethal effects of disease outbreaks among natural populations is challenging and requires longitudinal, individual life-history data on patterns of reproductive success and other indicators of individual fitness. Long-term monitoring data concerning detailed reproductive information of the reintroduced Mauritius parakeet (Psittacula echo) population collected before, during and after a disease outbreak was investigated. Deleterious effects of an outbreak of beak and feather disease virus (BFDV) were revealed on hatch success, but these effects were remarkably short-lived and disproportionately associated with breeding pairs which took supplemental food. Individual BFDV infection status was not predicted by any genetic, environmental or conservation management factors and was not associated with any of our measures of immune function, perhaps suggesting immunological impairment. Experimental immunostimulation using the PHA (phytohaemagglutinin assay) challenge technique did, however, provoke a significant cellular immune response. We illustrate the resilience of this bottlenecked and once critically endangered, island-endemic species to an epidemic outbreak of BFDV and highlight the value of systematic monitoring in revealing inconspicuous but nonetheless substantial ecological interactions. Our study demonstrates that the emergence of such an infectious disease in a population ordinarily associated with increased susceptibility does not necessarily lead to deleterious impacts on population growth and that negative effects on reproductive fitness can be short-lived.

DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12348

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@inproceedings{Tollington2015DetailedMO, title={Detailed monitoring of a small but recovering population reveals sublethal effects of disease and unexpected interactions with supplemental feeding}, author={Simon Tollington and Andrew G. Greenwood and Carl G. Jones and Paquita E. A. Hoeck and Aur{\'e}lie Chowrimootoo and Donal Smith and Heather S. Richards and Vikash Tatayah and Jim J. Groombridge}, booktitle={The Journal of animal ecology}, year={2015} }