The effect of population bottleneck size on parasitic load and immunocompetence of introduced birds in New Zealand
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
I investigated parasitic infection and immunocompetence in populations of introduced bird species in New Zealand (NZ) that had experienced a range of population bottlenecks (11-808 individuals), and compared these parameters to non-bottlenecked conspecifics in the United Kingdom (UK). My aims were two-fold; firstly to assess if population bottlenecks are linked to increased parasite loads and/or decreased immunocompetence, and secondly, to assess at what severity of bottleneck these effects become evident. I found that ectoparasite load (chewing lice, Order: Phthiraptera, Sub-Orders: Amblycera & Ischnocera) was significantly higher in the more severely bottlenecked species in NZ than in the UK, whilst this difference became non-significant at more moderate bottlenecks. The difference was mainly driven by the Sub-Order Amblycera. The prevalence of avian malaria (Plasmodium spp.) was significantly negatively correlated to bottleneck size within NZ, after controlling for body mass. Total leucocyte and differential lymphocyte counts were elevated in the less bottlenecked species that were infected with malaria, whilst the populations at the more severe end of the bottleneck spectrum did not exhibit such a response. Furthermore, heterophil/lymphocyte (HL) ratio (a parameter used as an indicator of environmental and/or immunological stress), was significantly raised in the more bottlenecked species when compared to their UK counterparts, and this difference was correlated with the size of the bottleneck. Immunocompetence was further assessed by the experimental challenge of six introduced birds species in NZ with the mitogen phytohaemagglutinin (PHA). Immune response to PHA was significantly correlated to bottleneck size, but in the opposite direction to that predicted; immune response was greater in the more bottlenecked species. However, this may be an indication of increased investment in immunity, due to increased parasite and pathogen pressure or differential investment in varying components of the immune system. Finally, the immune response to PHA was compared in nestlings of two species that had experienced very different bottlenecks (70 vs. 653). After controlling for ectoparasitic infestation, I found no difference between the two species; however, this finding may be confounded by interspecific competition. Overall, my findings suggest that more severe population bottlenecks may result in increased susceptibility to pathogens, and impact on the immune system. This has a number of implications for the development of conservation protocols, and future avenues of research are suggested.