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C1 Apicomplexan parasite load and immune responses in the cheetah (Hofer/Wachter)

Research Group: Department Evolutionary Ecology
Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW)
Address: Alfred-Kowalke-Str. 17, 10315 Berlin
Supervisors: Professor Heribert Hofer / Dr. Bettina Wachter
Doctoral Researcher: Ulrich Sternberg

Project Description     

This project will investigate parasite load and immune responses in a genetically monomorphic carnivore, the cheetah. Little is known about parasite susceptibility of free-ranging vulnerable wildlife species. Cheetahs exhibit a low level of variability at fitness-related immune genes (MHC) and are highly susceptible to infectious diseases when kept in zoos but not in the wild. This project will analyse samples collected from free-ranging and captive cheetahs in Namibia and examine how apicomplexan infections and parasite load depend on reproductive status, territorial status and group size of cheetahs. It further will examine the extent to which other components of the immune system can compensate the low MHC variability.

Some protocols for testing particular components of the immune system of the cheetahs are already developed, others will be developed during this project. An important part of the project will also be the management of the several thousand samples from several hundred cheetahs.

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