Date of Award
Master of Science
Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are the most abundant and widely-distributed wild felid species in North America. The current increase of population densities of bobcats raises concerns about their importance as reservoirs of pathogens and parasites that may affect the wildlife community. Although many parasites found in bobcats also infect other wild and domestic animals, knowledge of bobcat parasites and potential impacts on other species has received relatively little attention. My objectives were to determine the endoparasite species present in Illinois bobcats, compare them to previous records in the United States, and predict their potential presence in southern Illinois using the program MAXENT. To complete these goals, necropsies were performed on 67 road-killed or trapped bobcats collected during 2003-12. I found infections caused by cestodes, nematodes, and trematodes including Taenia rileyi (70.1%), Toxocara cati (25.3%), and Alaria marcianae (41.7%). The highest mean abundance was found for Alaria marcianae (81) followed by Taenia rileyi (4) and Toxocara cati (3). Alaria marcianae had the highest intensity (193) with a range of 1-2,872. The comparison of parasite communities across 10 geographic locations using Jaccard's similarity index showed low similarity among all regions with the most similar community between Nebraska and Texas (0.53) and Arkansas being the most similar to southern Illinois (0.74). Parasite presence data were then used with environmental data layers of water, soil, land cover, human density, and climate variables in MAXENT to create maps of potential presence of 3 parasite species in a 46,436-km2 portion of southern Illinois. Precipitation of seasonality, the change of average rainfall seasonally, and average precipitation were the highest contributing variables used by MAXENT when creating probability maps of Taenia rileyi (55.1%) and Alaria marcianae (58.4%). For Toxocara cati land cover (40.6%) and soil (27.6%) were the highest contributing variables. With the addition of a sampling bias layer (i.e., bobcat presence) all climatic variables were low contributors (0.0-2.0%) while land cover remained important for Alaria marcianae (7.6%) and Toxocara cati (6.3%); human density (4.8%) was of secondary importance for Taenia rileyi after including the bias layer. Variables of importance likely represent habitat requirements necessary for the completion of parasite life cycles. Larger areas of potential presence were found for generalist parasites such as Taenia rileyi (85%) while potential presence was less likely for parasites with complex life cycles such as Alaria marcianae (73%). My study provides information to wildlife biologists and health officials regarding the potential impacts of growing bobcat populations in combination with complex and changing environmental factors.
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