The population of ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) is decreasing all over Germany since the years 2008/2009. Besides impacts of habitat changes caused by current rates of land conversion, climatic influences or predators, a contribution of infectious pathogens needs also to be considered. Infectious and non-infectious diseases in free-living populations of ring-necked pheasants have been scarcely investigated so far.
In the present study, carcasses of 258 deceased free-ranging pheasants of different age groups, predominantly adult pheasants, collected over a period of 4 years in the states of Lower Saxony, North Rhine–Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein, were examined pathomorphologically, parasitologically, virologically and bacteriologically, with a focus set on infectious pathogens. A periocular and perinasal dermatitis of unknown origin was present in 62.3% of the pheasants. Additional alterations included protozoal cysts in the skeletal musculature (19.0%), hepatitis (21.7%), enteritis (18.7%), gastritis (12.6%), and pneumonia (11.7%). In single cases, neoplasms (2.6%) and mycobacteriosis (1.7%) occurred. Further findings included identification of coronaviral DNA from trachea or caecal tonsils (16.8%), siadenoviral DNA (7.6%), avian metapneumoviral RNA (6.6%), and infectious bursal disease viral RNA (3.7%). Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on herpesvirus, avian influenza virus (AIV), paramyxovirus type 1 (PMV-1), avian encephalomyelitis virus (AEV), and chlamydia were negative. Based on the present results, there is no indication of a specific pathogen as a sole cause for population decline in adult pheasants. However, an infectious disease can still not be completely excluded as it may only affect reproduction effectivity or a certain age group of pheasants (e.g., chicks) which were not presented in the study.

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European Journal of Wildlife Research
Department of Virology

Curland, N. (N.), Gethöffer, F. (F.), van Neer, A. (A.), Ziegler, L. (L.), Heffels-Redmann, U. (U.), Lierz, M. (M.), … Siebert, U. (U.). (2018). Investigation into diseases in free-ranging ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) in northwestern Germany during population decline with special reference to infectious pathogens. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 64(2). doi:10.1007/s10344-018-1173-2