, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 853-866
Date: 11 Nov 2009

Philornis downsi parasitism is the primary cause of nestling mortality in the critically endangered Darwin’s medium tree finch (Camarhynchus pauper)

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Darwin’s medium tree finch (Camarhynchus pauper) meets the 2009 International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List criteria for a critically endangered species because it has “a very small range on a single island” and is “declining rapidly owing to the effects of the parasite Philornis downsi”, habitat degradation, and introduced predators. The medium tree finch is only found in patches of remnant highland forest on Floreana Island, where it co-exists with breeding populations of small and large tree finches (C. parvulus and C. psittacula). Here, we examine the intensity of P. downsi in nests of small, medium, and large tree finches on Floreana. We expected that parasite intensity would increase with finch body size, and with greater rainfall, and would also correlate with increased nestling mortality. We found a trend in the expected direction for parasite intensity and rainfall. Combined meta-analytically with data from a previous study, the overall trend for the two studies was significant. We also found a significant linear trend in parasite intensity with finch body size. In addition, the medium tree finch exhibited a somewhat higher parasite intensity than would be expected based on body mass alone. Of 63 active medium tree finch nests, 17 nests had nestlings: all of which were infested with P. downsi. Only 25% of medium tree finch nestlings fledged, 28% were depredated, 41% died due to P. downsi parasitism, and 6% died for other reasons.