Prevalence of gastrointestinal parasites in a lowland Black Grouse population in Central Europe
The Northern German Black Grouse metapopulation has been affected since decades by a sharply decline that has ultimately led to a reduced genetic variability. Gastrointestinal parasitoses are common among Black Grouse, but it is not clear if they have a further negative impact on the development of this already threatened metapopulation. Therefore, between 2011 and 2014, the occurrence and seasonal variation of gastrointestinal parasites were assessed by coproscopical investigations of Black Grouse feces collected in the nature conservation area of the “Lüneburg Heath”. Feces were obtained also from individuals during capture and re-capture activities. In total, 1,187 fecal samples were analyzed, of which 365 were caecal and 822 were rectal feces samples. 86% of the caecal and 95% of the rectal feces samples were parasite negative. Of the positive samples, oocysts of Coccidia spp. showed the highest prevalences of 12.1% in caecal and 1.1% in rectal samples, respectively. Helminths of the species/genera Trichostrongylus tenuis, Ascaridia spp., Heterakis spp., Capillaria spp., and Syngamus trachea were also observed, but at remarkably lower prevalences. High and moderate excretion intensities were observed only for coccidian oocysts. Coccidian infections revealed a seasonal pattern, occurring mostly during autumn and winter. Nematode eggs occurred more frequently in spring and summer. Four of the seven Black Grouse that were caught and equipped with GPS transmitters, presented high excretion intensities of coccidian oocysts. Despite high/moderate oocyst excretion, no negative health impact was observed, suggesting low pathogenicity of the infecting coccidia species or subsided infections. In contrast to previous studies, this Black Grouse population showed low prevalences of a rather narrow spectrum of parasites. We did not observe any negative impact of parasite infections on this population, which could be responsible for its decline. Thus, causes of decline are to be ascribed to other proximate and ultimate factors.