Tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus) are broadly distributed in North America, use a wide variety of habitats, and exhibit diverse migration strategies. We investigated patterns of hematozoa infection in three populations of tundra swans that breed in Alaska using satellite tracking to infer host movement and molecular techniques to assess the prevalence and genetic diversity of parasites. We evaluated whether migratory patterns and environmental conditions at breeding areas explain the prevalence of blood parasites in migratory birds by contrasting the fit of competing models formulated in an occupancy modeling framework and calculating the detection probability of the top model using Akaike Information Criterion (AIC). We described genetic diversity of blood parasites in each population of swans by calculating the number of unique parasite haplotypes observed. Blood parasite infection was significantly different between populations of Alaska tundra swans, with the highest estimated prevalence occurring among birds occupying breeding areas with lower mean daily wind speeds and higher daily summer temperatures. Models including covariates of wind speed and temperature during summer months at breeding grounds better predicted hematozoa prevalence than those that included annual migration distance or duration. Genetic diversity of blood parasites in populations of tundra swans appeared to be relative to hematozoa prevalence. Our results suggest ecological conditions at breeding grounds may explain differences of hematozoa infection among populations of tundra swans that breed in Alaska.
Additional publication details
Molecular detection of hematozoa infections in tundra swans relative to migration patterns and ecological conditions at breeding grounds