Investigating the loss of recruitment potential in red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus): the relative importance of hen mortality, food supply, tick infestation and louping-ill

R J Irvine, M H Moseley, F. Leckie, J Martinez-Padilla, D Donley, A. Miller, M Pound, F Mougeot

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Ticks and their pathogens cause significant disease and economic loss in many animal populations. Despite this, experiments that test the impact of ticks and tick-borne diseases on wild animal populations are rare. Here, we report on an experiment assessing the effect of ticks on red grouse productivity and chick growth in relation to other causes of poor recruitment at two sites in the Scottish uplands during 2005. Treated hens received two leg bands impregnated with the acaricide permethrin, while controls hens were untreated. Chicks were captured at c.2 weeks of age and fitted with a metal patagial tag, and chicks from treated hens also received a permethrin-impregnated strip. Mean tick burdens in treated chicks were close to zero compared with a mean of around 12 in the control group. Although treatment reduced tick infestations, it did not increase brood size. Growth rates in chicks from control and treated hens were similar during the first 10 days and comparable with chicks fed an ad-lib invertebrate-based diet. These results suggest that in this case, neither ticks (and the tick transmitted louping-ill virus) nor food shortages was the main cause of chick mortality. However, mortality in the adult hens was around 35 %, and predation accounted for 62 % of these losses before broods fledged. Our results indicate that on our study sites, predation may have a more important impact on grouse population dynamics than ticks and tick-borne disease. We suggest that it may be more cost effective to determine the causes of poor grouse population performance before implementing popular but expensive tick control measures such as the culling of alternative hosts and running acaracide treated sheep ‘tick-mop’ flocks.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-322
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean Journal of Wildlife Research
Issue number2
Early online date21 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014



  • food supply
  • louping ill virus
  • mortality
  • recruitment
  • red grouse
  • ticks

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