Lethal and sub-lethal impacts of respiratory cryptosporidiosis on Red Grouse, a wild gamebird of economic importance
Respiratory cryptosporidiosis was first diagnosed in Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus scotica, the UK subspecies of Willow Ptarmigan, in 2010. In the next 3 years, respiratory infection by Cryptosporidium baileyi had manifested itself in Grouse on half the moors in northern England and 80% of moors in the North Pennine Hills. In this first account of the impact of respiratory cryptosporidiosis on the population dynamics of a wild bird we fitted 111 diseased and 67 healthy Grouse with radio-transmitters at two North Pennine moors where disease prevalence averaged 8.1% and monitored their survival and fecundity between autumn 2013 and autumn 2015. Six-month natural survival rates (excluding shooting) were 0.70 in healthy Grouse, but only 0.44 in diseased females, and 0.22 in diseased males. Some 39% of diseased birds died from their infection, whereas 28% of healthy birds were shot. A similar proportion of each group were killed by predators, either by Stoat Mustela erminea or raptors. Diseased females bred 8 days later than healthy females, but clutch size, egg volume and nesting success did not differ in relation to disease status. Productivity was 43% lower among pairs with a diseased member than in healthy pairs, but appeared impaired only if the female was diseased, not the male. Differences in productivity were related to chick survival rather than the proportion of pairs that reared broods, with chick survival being lower in the 10 days after hatching and again when chicks were 20-50 days old. This latter period was when respiratory infection among chicks was first noticed and the onset of infection may have been a contributing factor to higher mortality during this period. Described levels of respiratory infection reduced the number of birds available to shoot in August by 6%, which represented a mean annual loss of £0.9 million in revenue across managed grouse moors. Likely reductions in shoot economics could escalate should prevalence increase. This disease is a welfare concern and potentially a conservation concern, too, should infection cross to other bird species occupying the same moors.