The diet and disease susceptibility of grey partridges Perdix perdix on arable farmland in East Anglia, England.
A three-year field-based study of 85 radio-tagged female wild grey partridges Perdix perdix was undertaken during 2001-2003 in East Anglia, England, to investigate possible links between chick diet and parasite-induced disease. The females produced 30 broods, whose diet measured by faecal analysis was typical of that previously reported. Chicks in some broods, however, consumed large numbers of known parasite vectors, particularly ants. Survival to the age of six weeks of chicks in a brood declined, on average, as the percentage of ants in the diet increased. Additionally 79 wild partridges found dead or in poor condition were submitted for necropsy to assess internal parasite burdens. Of these, 22 (28%) contained parasitic infections, although only 12 (15%) had levels of parasites that may have resulted in death. Internal parasites were found in only 7% of a subsample of 46 birds that died accidentally or were shot, and this was likely to be representative of the background level of infection. In a separate laboratory study of nutrition, no parasites were recorded in 180 six-week-old chicks that had eaten > 16,000 potential parasite vectors during the first three weeks after hatching. Either parasite levels were very low among host invertebrates or other factors contributed to increase disease susceptibility. Our results suggest that poor wild brood survival was indicative of low habitat and food quality rather than of a high rate of parasite infection. Management to conserve and increase wild grey partridge numbers should concentrate on improving foraging habitat quality, i.e. increasing the abundance of nutritious invertebrate chick-food, rather than directing efforts at reducing the small-scale effects of disease.