Parasites are ubiquitous in the environment, and can cause negative effects in their host species. Importantly, seabirds can be long-lived and cross multiple continents within a single annual cycle, thus their exposure to parasites may be greater than other taxa. With changing climatic conditions expected to influence parasite distribution and abundance, understanding current level of infection, transmission pathways and population-level impacts are integral aspects for predicting ecosystem changes, and how climate change will affect seabird species. In particular, a range of micro- and macro-parasites can affect seabird species, including ticks, mites, helminths, viruses and bacteria in gulls, terns, skimmers, skuas, auks and selected phalaropes (Charadriiformes), tropicbirds (Phaethontiformes), penguins (Sphenisciformes), tubenoses (Procellariiformes), cormorants, frigatebirds, boobies, gannets (Suliformes), and pelicans (Pelecaniformes) and marine seaducks and loons (Anseriformes and Gaviiformes). We found that the seabird orders of Charadriiformes and Procellariiformes were most represented in the parasite-seabird literature. While negative effects were reported in seabirds associated with all the parasite groups, most effects have been studied in adults with less information known about how parasites may affect chicks and fledglings. We found studies most often reported on negative effects in seabird hosts during the breeding season, although this is also the time when most seabird research occurs. Many studies report that external factors such as condition of the host, pollution, and environmental conditions can influence the effects of parasites, thus cumulative effects likely play a large role in how parasites influence seabirds at both the individual and population level. With an increased understanding of parasite-host dynamics it is clear that major environmental changes, often those associated with human activities, can directly or indirectly affect the distribution, abundance, or virulence of parasites and pathogens.

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Advances in Marine Biology
Department of Biology

Khan, J.S. (Junaid S.), Provencher, J.F. (Jennifer F.), Forbes, M, Mallory, M.L. (Mark L.), Lebarbenchon, C. (Camille), & McCoy, K.D. (Karen D.). (2019). Parasites of seabirds: A survey of effects and ecological implications. In Advances in Marine Biology. doi:10.1016/bs.amb.2019.02.001

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