Epidemiology of parasitic protozoan infections in Soay sheep (Ovis aries L.) on St Kilda

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The feral Soay sheep (Ovis aries L.) population on Hirta, St Kilda, is host to a diverse component parasite community, but previous parasitological studies of the population have only focussed on the metazoan species. This paper reports the first epidemiological study of the protozoan species comprising Cryptosporidium parvum, Giardia duodenalis and 11 species of Eimeria in Soay sheep across 3 years of varying host population density. Prevalence and intensity of almost all species of protozoa significantly decreased with host age, with the exception of E. granulosa, which increased in prevalence with host age. The prevalence of C. parvum appeared to vary positively with host population density but that of G. duodenalis did not vary significantly with density. Most species of Eimeria showed a distinct lag in infection level following the host population crash of 2002, taking up to 2 years to decrease. Mixed Eimeria species intensity and diversity were highest in 2002, a year of low host density. Parasite diversity decreased with host age and was higher in males. There were 5 positive pair-wise associations between protozoa species in terms of prevalence. The results of this study highlight the potential for protozoal infection to shape the evolution of parasite resistance in wild host populations harbouring diverse parasite species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-21
Number of pages13
Issue number01
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2007


  • Soay sheep
  • St Kida
  • Cryptosporidium parvum
  • Giardia duodenalis
  • Eimeria spp


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