The impact of conservation translocations on vector-borne parasites : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Ecology at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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Wildlife conservation in New Zealand relies on translocations of endangered species to safe sites. While knowledge of the biology and behaviour of translocated hosts has steadily increased, the role of parasites in wildlife translocations has been largely overlooked. Parasites can affect their host’s survivorship during translocations by causing disease. However, failure to translocate or reintroduce a host specific parasite with its endangered host can contribute to the extinction of the parasite with unforeseen consequences for the future of the host or even the whole ecosystem. The main aims of this study were to establish baseline data on the impact of North Island saddleback translocations on their avian malaria (Plasmodium spp.) parasites as well as gaining further insight into potential vectors in New Zealand. The study was also intended to contribute to the development of recommendations for future parasite screening programmes for native passerine translocations. Saddlebacks and Plasmodium were chosen because of the detailed saddleback translocation history and its known relationship with the parasite. As a result of this study, several Plasmodium lineages previously unrecorded in saddlebacks and New Zealand were identified, for example, the native Kokako01 and one lineage closest related to two lineages from the Americas. Nonetheless, the most frequent lineages found were the cosmopolitan P. elongatum GRW6 and LINN1, and P. vaughani SYAT05, common in birds introduced to New Zealand. This finding suggests that endemic parasites may have already become rare or extinct. In addition, Plasmodium DNA was detected in both native and introduced mosquitoes that may act as vectors. A qPCR assay was developed that was found to be a cost effective and rapid screening tool for the detection of Plasmodium in native birds suffering from acute infection, presenting with clinical symptoms, and in birds that were found dead. . I conclude that future translocations should consider the movement of endemic parasites with their hosts. How this should happen is open for future studies. However, I urge managers to start considering this issue now as New Zealand has already recorded the extinction of one endemic parasite and many more may have already been lost without knowledge.
North Island saddleback, Plasmodium, Wildlife relocation Environmental aspects, Host-parasite relationships, New Zealand, Research Subject Categories::NATURAL SCIENCES, Avian malaria