Although the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii is ubiquitous in birds and mammals worldwide, the full suite of hosts and transmission routes is not completely understood, especially in the Arctic. Toxoplasma gondii occurrence in humans and wildlife can be high in Arctic regions, despite apparently limited opportunities for transmission of oocysts shed by felid definitive hosts. Arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus) are under increasing anthropogenic and ecologic pressure, leading to population declines in parts of their range. Our understanding of T. gondii occurrence in arctic foxes is limited to only a few regions, but mortality events caused by this parasite have been reported. We investigated the exposure of arctic foxes to T. gondii in the Karrak Lake goose colony, Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Nunavut, Canada. Following an occupancy-modeling framework, we performed replicated antibody testing on serum samples by direct agglutination test (DAT), indirect fluorescent antibody test (IFAT), and an indirect enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) that can be used in multiple mammalian host species. As a metric of test performance, we then estimated the probability of detecting T. gondii antibodies for each of the tests. Occupancy estimates for T. gondii antibodies in arctic foxes under this framework were between 0.430 and 0.758. Detection probability was highest for IFAT (0.716) and lower for DAT (0.611) and ELISA (0.464), indicating that the test of choice for antibody detection in arctic foxes might be the IFAT. We document a new geographic record of T. gondii exposure in arctic foxes and demonstrate an emerging application of ecologic modeling techniques to account for imperfect performance of diagnostic tests in wildlife species.
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Vol. 52 • No. 1