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Parasite communities of wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) in Colorado




Shilling Littman, Paige Willever, author
Moore, Janice, advisor
Ghalambor, Cameron, committee member
Pabilonia, Kristy, committee member

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Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are large galliform birds, are commonly hunted birds, and they are non-migratory. Wild turkeys were originally found over most of the United States. In the early 1900s they experienced widespread population declines which are thought to have been caused by overhunting and habitat loss. Due to many reintroduction efforts, the wild turkey is now found in its historical range and it has expanded its range even further. However, considering the popularity of wild turkeys as game birds, relatively few studies have addressed their parasites, and specifically the helminth parasites. Island Biogeography Theory has been applied to parasite and host relationships in which the host is considered an island. In particular, the Island Size hypothesis predicts that a larger island will allow for greater species diversity due to the increased area, and by extension, larger host species, in terms of body mass, will have more species of parasites. This study evaluates whether or not galliform birds support the Island Size Hypothesis in terms of their parasite communities. Birds in the order Galliformes have a wide range of sizes and are generally non-migratory; thus they will not pick up parasites from different locations. I reviewed twenty six studies of 19 species of galliform birds and recorded the number of helminth species reported in each host bird species. Based on these data, I show that there is a positive correlation (R2 = 0.212) between galliform host size and number of helminth parasite species. The model that best fits the data includes both the mean mass of the host species as well as the family of the host species. This is the first survey of helminth parasites in wild turkeys of Colorado. I collected 24 wild turkey intestines that were donated by hunters. These intestines were examined for helminth parasites, which were collected and identified. A total of 7 different species of helminth parasites were identified in these Colorado wild turkeys. Cestodes were the most commonly identified helminths, followed by acanthocephalans, trematodes, and nematodes. The Colorado data were then compared to a previous study of the helminths of wild turkeys in both Florida and New Zealand. A total of 14 helminth parasite species were reported from wild turkeys in Florida while 6 helminth species were reported in wild turkeys from New Zealand. These data suggest that there are differences in these parasite communities in terms of parasite species richness and prevalence of each helminth species. The fact that wild turkeys are not only a popular game bird, but also a common component of domestic poultry operations underscored the importance of understanding their parasites. This knowledge can help us to harvest wild turkeys safely when hunting as well as minimize the transfer of parasites between domestic and wild turkeys.


2014 Fall.
Includes bibliographical references.

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wild turkey


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