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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Apr 7;273(1588):797-804.

Disease ecology in the Galápagos Hawk (Buteo galapagoensis): host genetic diversity, parasite load and natural antibodies.

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  • 1Department of Biology & International Center for Tropical Ecology, University of Missouri-St Louis, St Louis, MO 63121, USA.


An increased susceptibility to disease is one hypothesis explaining how inbreeding hastens extinction in island endemics and threatened species. Experimental studies show that disease resistance declines as inbreeding increases, but data from in situ wildlife systems are scarce. Genetic diversity increases with island size across the entire range of an extremely inbred Galápagos endemic bird, providing the context for a natural experiment examining the effects of inbreeding on disease susceptibility. Extremely inbred populations of Galápagos hawks had higher parasite abundances than relatively outbred populations. We found a significant island effect on constitutively produced natural antibody (NAb) levels and inbred populations generally harboured lower average and less variable NAb levels than relatively outbred populations. Furthermore, NAb levels explained abundance of amblyceran lice, which encounter the host immune system. This is the first study linking inbreeding, innate immunity and parasite load in an endemic, in situ wildlife population and provides a clear framework for assessment of disease risk in a Galápagos endemic.

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