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High dispersal capacity of a broad spectrum of aquatic invertebrates via waterbirds

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Speculation about the role of waterbirds in the dispersal of aquatic invertebrates pre-dates Darwin. However, there is a critical shortage of field studies quantifying such dispersal. We quantified the viability of aquatic invertebrates in the faeces of different waterfowl species collected in the field at different times during winter. Faeces were collected from four duck species (Northern Pintail Anas acuta, Mallard A. platyrhynchos, Shoveler A. clypeata, Eurasian Teal A. crecca) and Eurasian Coot Fulica atra in November 2004 and January 2005. We also collected soil samples from resting sites as an indicator of what may be transported on birds’ feet and plumage. Faecal and soil samples were incubated using two treatments (0.4 and 4.0 mS cm-1) to quantify the potential for dispersal between aquatic habitats of different salinities. We found that viable Nematoda, Rotifera, Copepoda, Ostracoda, Insecta (Tipulidae), and Daphnia and Moina cladocerans were transported internally by birds in the wild. We also found evidence that nematodes, rotifers, ostracods, copepods, tipulids, chironomids and hemipterans can be dispersed on birds’ feet and feathers. The overall incidence of hatching from all samples was higher in January (59.4%) than in November (11.5%). With the exception of bdelloid rotifers, we found no evidence that the potential for dispersal between two habitats would be impeded by salinity in the range tested. Our data suggest that the taxonomic range of dispersed invertebrates and the frequency of their dispersal via waterfowl has previously been underestimated.

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Correspondence to Dagmar Frisch.

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Received: 4 August 2006; revised manuscript accepted: 1 January 2007

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Frisch, D., Green, A.J. & Figuerola, J. High dispersal capacity of a broad spectrum of aquatic invertebrates via waterbirds. Aquat. Sci. 69, 568–574 (2007).

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