The parasitic eyeworm Oxyspirura petrowias a possible cause of decline in the threatened lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus)
Lesser prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) have been declining range wide since the early 1900's despite efforts to establish conservation and improve their habitat. In early 2014, the lesser prairie-chicken was listed as a threatened species under the U.S Endangered Species Act and the need to find out why they are declining is more important than ever. Nine hunter shot lesser prairie-chickens were donated and sampled for the presence or absence of the eyeworm Oxyspirura petrowi, a known parasite that can cause damage to the eye of its host, and common environmental contaminants. Eyeworm infection was found in 7 of 9 birds (78% infection rate) with an infection range between 0-16 O. petrowi per bird. Breast, liver, and fat tissue samples from the lesser prairie-chickens were analyzed for the frequency of 20 organochlorine pesticides. Femurs and livers were also tested on these birds for metal contaminants. Pesticides were found in several samples above the detection limits but were still in the low ng/g range. Notable was the ubiquitous presence of endrin aldehyde across all tissues. One femur showed 5.66 μg/g of lead (Pb) but this is still relatively low. No liver samples had elevated mercury (Hg) above detection limits. The presence of these organochlorines is consistent with the historic use of pesticides in this region. With pesticide and metals found in such low levels and parasitic nematode infections at rather high levels, it is recommended that these parasites be further evaluated as a contributing factor to the decline of the lesser prairie-chicken.