Research Article

Epidemiology of nematode infections of Soay sheep (Ovis aries L.) on St Kilda

F. M. D. Gullanda1 and M. Foxa2

a1 Large Animal Research Group, Zoology Department, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ

a2 Royal Veterinary College, Royal College Street, Camden Town, London NW1


The epidemiology of nematode infections of Soay sheep on the island of St Kilda over a period of 2 years (August 1988–August 1990) spanning a host population crash is described. Infective larvae (L3) levels on pasture were high (2422±365 L3/kg D.M. grass in midsummer 1988) when host population density was high, decreasing after the sheep population declined by 70% in early 1989 (601 ±14 L3/kg D.M. in midsummer 1989). The availability of infective larvae to sheep increased during the winter of 1988–1989, probably as a result of concentration of existing larvae on grass as vegetation was destroyed by bad weather and overgrazing. Increased availability of pre-parasitic stages was accompanied by a marked increased in faecal egg counts from sheep of all ages and both sexes. Prevalence and intensity of infection (faecal egg counts) were higher in males than females throughout the 2-year study (χ2 = 208.3, P < 0.005 and F1.2000 = 304, P < 0.001 respectively), except during the lambing periods, and decreased with age in both sexes. Changes in prevalence and intensity of strongyle infections were associated with changes in host population density. Prevalence and intensity of Dictyocaulus filaria larvae in faeces increased during the host population crash. Infection intensity decreased with age (F1.203 = 44.02, P < 0.001) and was higher in males than females (F1.203 = 13.45, P < 0.001).

(Received January 30 1992)

(Revised April 11 1992)

(Accepted April 28 1992)