• Higher risk of gastrointestinal parasite infection at lower elevation suggests possible constraints in the distributional niche of Alpine marmots

      Zanet, Stefania; Miglio, Giacomo; Ferrari, Caterina; Bassano, Bruno; Ferroglio, Ezio; von Hardenberg, Achaz; Università di Torino; Gran Paradiso National Park; University of Chester (Public Library of Science, 2017-08-01)
      Alpine marmots Marmota marmota occupy a narrow altitudinal niche within high elevation alpine environments. For animals living at such high elevations where resources are limited, parasitism represents a potential major cost in life history. Using occupancy models, we tested if marmots living at higher elevation have a reduced risk of being infected with gastrointestinal helminths, possibly compensating the lower availability of resources (shorter feeding season, longer snow cover and lower temperature) than marmots inhabiting lower elevations. Detection probability of eggs and oncospheres of two gastro-intestinal helminthic parasites, Ascaris laevis and Ctenotaenia marmotae, sampled in marmot feces, was used as a proxy of parasite abundance. As predicted, the models showed a negative relationship between elevation and parasite detectability (i.e. abundance) for both species, while there appeared to be a negative effect of solar radiance only for C. marmotae. Site-occupancy models are used here for the first time to model the constrains of gastrointestinal parasitism on a wild species and the relationship existing between endoparasites and environmental factors in a population of free-living animals. The results of this study suggest the future use of site-occupancy models as a viable tool to account for parasite imperfect detection in ecoparasitological studies, and give useful insights to further investigate the hypothesis of the contribution of parasite infection in constraining the altitudinal niche of Alpine marmots.