Oral Presentation 64th International Conference of the Wildlife Disease Association 2015

Bettongs and blood parasites: what's driving declines in the woylie (Bettongia penicillata)? (#14)

Stephanie Godfrey 1 , Adriana Botero 1 , Craig Thompson 1 , Adrian Wayne 2 , Andrew Thompson 1
  1. Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA, Australia
  2. Science Division, Department of Parks and Wildlife, Manjimup, Western Australia
Woylie (also known as brush-tailed bettongs, Bettongia penicillata) populations have undergone substantial declines over the past decade, with the cause of the declines attributed partly, but not entirely, to predators. Woylie declines displayed density-dependence, and a spatiotemporal pattern of decline, similar to declines patterns observed in other disease-driven declines. Three Trypanosoma spp. have been identified from woylies so far, and one of these – T. copemani – has shown pathogenic potential. In this study, we asked if patterns of Trypanosoma infection were associated with patterns of decline throughout the decline region. If trypanosomes were associated with woylie declines, we expected that infection prevalence would be highest at the peak of the decline, and prevalence would decline as the declines progressed through the region. Species-specific PCRs were run for each of the three Trypanosoma species from woylie blood samples collected between 2006 – 2012 from the Upper Warren region (south-west Western Australia). We found a strong association between spatio-temporal patterns of woylie declines and the prevalence of T. copemani, but not the other two Trypanosoma spp. We consider this further support for the hypothesis that T. copemani is indirectly involved in the woylie declines, probably through enhancing the predation risk of infected individuals.