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Gastrointestinal parasites of the New England cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus transitionalis) and eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) in the Hudson Valley, New York

Whipps, Christopher M., Gavard, Emily J., Cohen, Jonathan, Ryan, Sadie J.
Parasitology research 2019 v.118 no.7 pp. 2257-2262
DNA, Eimeria, Sylvilagus floridanus, Sylvilagus transitionalis, feces, gastrointestinal parasites, genetic analysis, microsatellite repeats, ova, parasites, rabbits, species richness, statistical analysis, sympatry, winter, New York
The New England cottontail rabbit (NEC, Sylvilagus transitionalis) population has decreased dramatically in New York, USA, and the role of parasites in limiting the population has never been examined. The closely related and sympatric eastern cottontail rabbit (EC, Sylvilagus floridanus) was introduced into the range of NEC by humans and is currently thriving. This study aimed to investigate gastrointestinal parasites of the NEC and the EC and compare their parasite communities. Fecal pellets from 195 NEC and 125 EC were collected from the Hudson Valley, New York, in the winter of 2013–2014. Centrifugal fecal floats were performed in Sheather’s sugar solution, and parasite ova and cysts were examined microscopically to identify gastrointestinal parasites present. For all pellets combined (n = 320), 91% were found to harbor at least 1 parasite species, with Eimeria species being the most common. Genetic analysis of pellets using microsatellite DNA identified 248 individual rabbits, with parasite prevalence (94%) similar to the prevalence estimate based on all pellets (91%). EC samples had a significantly higher (p < 0.05) parasite species richness (1.73, range 0–4) than NEC (1.20, range 0–3). EC and NEC shared 3 moderate to high (9–89%) prevalence parasites, in which EC prevalence was consistently higher. One parasite species was only found in NEC, and two were only found in EC, but the majority of these were of low abundance, precluding further statistical analyses.