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Exotic species can experience fast expansion in new environments, especially if they left their pathogens behind (Enemy Release hypothesis) or brought novel pathogens to the native competitors (Novel Weapon hypothesis). Common waxbills (Estrilda astrild) are native to sub-Saharan Africa and invaded west Iberia since the 1960s. Past haemosporidian parasite surveys at four locations in Portugal showed that waxbills can be infected with parasites, though with very low prevalence. However, it is not known if this pattern generalizes across their distribution range, or if there are geographic differences in parasite prevalence. It is also not discussed if this is a case of Enemy Release, as opposed to waxbills being also little parasitized in their native range. We screened 617 waxbills in 23 sites in Portugal and detected nine parasite lineages, most of them only known to the Palearctic. Only ten individuals were parasitized, and there was no significant geographical pattern on the prevalence. Overall, this population shows very low prevalence of haemosporidians (1.6% prevalence), which contrasts with significantly higher prevalence in native grounds, as compiled from the literature. These data support Enemy Release as the most likely hypothesis, which may have been important for their success as an exotic species.
Rice fields provide functional wetlands for declining shorebirds and other waterbirds around the world, but fundamental aspects of their stopover ecology in rice fields remain unknown. We estimated the length of stay of Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa migrating through rice fields, and showed the international importance of Extremadura’s rice fields (south-west Spain) for this Near Threatened shorebird species. Overall, large numbers of Black-tailed Godwits en route to their breeding grounds had long lengths of stay in the rice fields (34.7 ± 1.7, 14.4 ± 2.0 and 8.3 ± 1.2 days in godwits radio-tagged in late January, early February, and late February, respectively). The long lengths of stay of godwits in rice fields, together with some aspects of their feeding ecology, suggest that rice fields are suitable staging habitats, and therefore they could play an important role as buffer habitats against the loss or degradation of natural wetlands. Extremadura’s rice fields supported at least 14% of the declining Western European population of Black-tailed Godwit, and its increasing number in south-west Spain probably reflects a population shift towards the northern part of the winter range. We strongly suggest the inclusion of Extremadura’s rice fields as a Special Protection Area for birds under the European Union Directive on the conservation of wild birds.
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