The performance of field sampling for parasite detection in a wild passerine

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Ecology and Evolution. Wiley. 2022, 12(8), e9242. eISSN 2045-7758. Available under: doi: 10.1002/ece3.9242
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Parasites can impact the behavior of animals and alter the interplay with ecological factors in their environment. Studying the effects that parasites have on animals thus requires accurate estimates of infections in individuals. However, quantifying parasites can be challenging due to several factors. Laboratory techniques, physiological fluctuations, methodological constraints, and environmental influences can introduce measurement errors, in particular when screening individuals in the wild. These issues are pervasive in ecological studies where it is common to sample study subjects only once. Such factors should be carefully considered when choosing a sampling strategy, yet presently there is little guidance covering the major sources of error. In this study, we estimate the reliability and sensitivity of different sampling practices at detecting two internal parasites—Serratospiculoides amaculata and Isospora sp.—in a model organism, the great tit Parus major. We combine field and captive sampling to assess whether individual parasite infection status and load can be estimated from single field samples, using different laboratory techniques—McMaster and mini-FLOTAC. We test whether they vary in their performance, and quantify how sample processing affects parasite detection rates. We found that single field samples had elevated rates of false negatives. By contrast, samples collected from captivity over 24 h were highly reliable (few false negatives) and accurate (repeatable in the intensity of infection). In terms of methods, we found that the McMaster technique provided more repeatable estimates than the mini-FLOTAC for S. amaculata eggs, and both techniques were largely equally suitable for Isospora oocysts. Our study shows that field samples are likely to be unreliable in accurately detecting the presence of parasites and, in particular, for estimating parasite loads in songbirds. We highlight important considerations for those designing host–parasite studies in captive or wild systems giving guidance that can help select suitable methods, minimize biases, and acknowledge possible limitations.

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ISO 690ABDU, Salamatu, Michael CHIMENTO, Gustavo ALARCON NIETO, Daniel Sebastián ZÚÑIGA SEPÚLVEDA, Lucy M. APLIN, Damien R. FARINE, Hanja B. BRANDL, 2022. The performance of field sampling for parasite detection in a wild passerine. In: Ecology and Evolution. Wiley. 2022, 12(8), e9242. eISSN 2045-7758. Available under: doi: 10.1002/ece3.9242
BibTex
@article{Abdu2022-08perfo-58410,
  year={2022},
  doi={10.1002/ece3.9242},
  title={The performance of field sampling for parasite detection in a wild passerine},
  number={8},
  volume={12},
  journal={Ecology and Evolution},
  author={Abdu, Salamatu and Chimento, Michael and Alarcon Nieto, Gustavo and Zúñiga Sepúlveda, Daniel Sebastián and Aplin, Lucy M. and Farine, Damien R. and Brandl, Hanja B.},
  note={Article Number: e9242}
}
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