Environmental drivers of parasite load and species richness in introduced parakeets in an urban landscape.
Introduced species represent a threat to native wildlife worldwide, due to predation, competition, and disease transmission. Concurrent introduction of parasites may also add a new dimension of competition, i.e. parasite-mediated competition, through spillover and spillback dynamics. Urban areas are major hotspots of introduced species, but little is known about the effects of urban habitat structure on the parasite load and diversity of introduced species. Here, we investigated such environmental effects on the ectoparasite load, richness, and occurrence of spillback in two widespread invasive parakeets, Psittacula krameri and Myiopsitta monachus, in the metropolitan area of Rome, central Italy. We tested 231 parakeets and found that in both species parasite load was positively influenced by host abundance at local scale, while environmental features such as the amount of natural or urban habitats, as well as richness of native birds, influenced parasite occurrence, load, and richness differently in the two host species. Therefore, we highlight the importance of host population density and habitat composition in shaping the role of introduced parakeets in the spread of both native and introduced parasites, recommending the monitoring of urban populations of birds and their parasites to assess and manage the potential occurrence of parasite-mediated competition dynamics as well as potential spread of vector-borne diseases.