Biology Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches, Lectures

Relationships of Endoparasite Diversity and Feeding Ecology in the Seabird Complex of South Florida

Event Name/Location

40th Annual Meeting of the Waterbird Society, New Bern, North Carolina, September 20-23, 2016

Presntation Date


Document Type



0000-0002-4900-3099, 0000-0002-4440-8767




Parasite communities within specific host taxa can often provide insight on ecosystem processes, namely through variation associated with the feeding ecology, distribution, environmental effects, and phylogeny of hosts. Despite the variable and important roles in marine ecosystems played by seabirds, surprisingly few studies have examined parasite community questions in these species, and little is known about how parasite community structure varies among trophic guilds and migratory habits. For example, parasite communities should differ in species that feed in estuaries and mangroves versus other marine habitats. We examined parasite communities in eight South Florida seabird species: brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis (n=34), northern gannet Morus bassanus (n=29), double-crested cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus (n=33), laughing gull Leucophaeus atricilla (n=42), herring gull Larus argentatus (n=12), royal tern Thalasseus maximus (n=29), least tern Sternula antillarum (n=1), and osprey Pandion haliaetus (n=14). Since 2012, seabird carcasses obtained from local wildlife rescue agencies have been necropsied, with endoparasites recovered, enumerated, and identified from several specific tissue types. Preliminary analyses have found high endoparasite abundances within stomachs and intestines, but not muscle or other organs. Endoparasite taxa include nematodes (e.g., Contracaecum sp.), cestodes, monogeneans, and digeneans. Species that forage further offshore (pelicans and gannets) harbor greater abundance and diversity of endoparasites than species that forage inshore (gulls, terns, cormorants, and osprey). Preliminary results also indicate structural differences among communities. For example, seabird species differed in the relative dominance of intestinal trematodes and nematodes. Finally, insight on the endoparasite faunal community within these targeted seabird species may indicate preferred prey items and trophic levels, as well as variation in foraging habits.

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