Biodiversity threats from outside to inside: effects of alien grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) on helminth community of native red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris).
Biological invasions are among the major causes of biodiversity loss worldwide, and parasites carried or acquired by invaders may represent an added threat to native species. We compared gastrointestinal helminth communities of native Eurasian red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) in the presence and absence of introduced Eastern grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) to detect alterations induced by the alien species. In particular, we investigated whether spillover of a North American nematode Strongyloides robustus occurs and whether prevalence of a local parasite Trypanoxyuris sciuri in red squirrels is affected by grey squirrel presence. The probability of being infected by both parasites was significantly higher in areas co-inhabited by the alien species, where 61% of examined red squirrels (n=49) were infected by S. robustus and 90% by T. sciuri. Conversely, in red-only areas, the two parasites infected only 5 and 70% of individuals (n=60). Overall, our findings support the hypothesis that red squirrels acquire S. robustus via spillover from the alien congener and suggest that invaders' presence may also indirectly affect infection by local parasites through mechanisms diverse than spill-back and linked to the increased competitive pressure to which red squirrels are subjected. These results indicate that the impact of grey squirrel on red squirrels may have been underestimated and highlight the importance of investigating variation in macroparasite communities of native species threatened by alien competitors.