U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


Main content area

Nematode parasite diversity in birds: the role of host ecology, life history and migration

Tommy L. F. Leung, Janet Koprivnikar
journal of animal ecology 2016 v.85 no.6 pp. 1471-1480
Accipitriformes, Anseriformes, Nematoda, aquatic habitat, birds of prey, carnivores, diet, fauna, geographical distribution, habitat preferences, helminths, herbivores, hosts, life history, migratory behavior, migratory birds, omnivores, pathogens, water birds
Previous studies have found that migratory birds generally have a more diverse array of pathogens such as parasites, as well as higher intensities of infection. However, it is not clear whether this is driven by the metabolic and physiological demands of migration, differential selection on host life‐history traits or basic ecological differences between migratory and non‐migratory species. Parasitic helminths can cause significant pathology in their hosts, and many are trophically transmitted such that host diet and habitat use play key roles in the acquisition of infections. Given the concurrent changes in avian habitats and migratory behaviour, it is critical to understand the degree to which host ecology influences their parasite communities. We examined nematode parasite diversity in 153 species of Anseriformes (water birds) and Accipitriformes (predatory birds) in relation to their migratory behaviour, diet, habitat use, geographic distribution and life history using previously published data. Overall, migrators, host species with wide geographic distributions and those utilizing multiple aquatic habitats had greater nematode richness (number of species), and birds with large clutches harboured more diverse nematode fauna with respect to number of superfamilies. Separate analyses for each host order found similar results related to distribution, habitat use and migration; however, herbivorous water birds played host to a less diverse nematode community compared to those that consume some animals. Birds using multiple aquatic habitats have a more diverse nematode fauna relative to primarily terrestrial species, likely because there is greater opportunity for contact with parasite infectious stages and/or consumption of infected hosts. As such, omnivorous and carnivorous birds using aquatic habitats may be more affected by environmental changes that alter their diet and range. Even though there were no overall differences in their ecology and life history compared with non‐migrators, migratory bird species still harboured a more diverse array of nematodes, suggesting that this behaviour places unique demands on these hosts and warrants further study.