Helminth parasites are associated with reduced survival probability in young red deer

Claudia I. Acerini, Sean Morris, Alison Morris, Fiona Kenyon, David Mcbean, Josephine M. Pemberton, Gregory F. Albery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Helminths are common parasites of wild ungulates that can have substantial costs for growth, mortality, and reproduction. Whilst these costs are relatively well documented for mature animals, knowledge of helminths’ impacts on juveniles is more limited. Identifying these effects is important because young individuals are often heavily infected, and juvenile mortality is a key process regulating wild populations. Here, we investigated associations between helminth infection and overwinter survival in juvenile wild red deer (Cervus elaphus) on the Isle of Rum, Scotland. We collected faecal samples non-invasively from known individuals and used them to count propagules of three helminth taxa (strongyle nematodes, Fasciola hepatica, and Elaphostrongylus cervi). Using generalised linear models, we investigated associations between parasite counts and overwinter survival for calves and yearlings. Strongyles were associated with reduced survival in both age classes, and F. hepatica was associated with reduced survival in yearlings, whilst E. cervi infection showed no association with survival in either age class. This study provides observational evidence for fitness costs of helminth infection in juveniles of a wild mammal, and suggests that these parasites could play a role in regulating population dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
Early online date2 Sep 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Sep 2022


  • disease ecology
  • helminths
  • wild mammal
  • survival
  • ungulate
  • fitness costs


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