Characterization of the Plasmodium and Haemoproteus parasite community in temperate-tropical birds during spring migration
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Animal movements, especially avian migration, can be a mechanism for the large-scale dispersal and geographic range expansion of parasites. The host-parasite relationships among birds during migration have yet to be fully explored. We characterized the haemosporidian parasite lineages in passerines during spring migration on the Texas coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and identified associations among wintering origin (US, Central America, South America) and foraging height (canopy, understory, ground) and infection status. We examined 743 samples representing 52 species of 10 families over six years, 2014-2019. We used PCR and DNA sequencing of the haemosporidian cytB gene from avian blood samples to determine infection status with the genera Plasmodium and Haemoproteus and characterize the lineages of blood parasites. We found an overall haemosporidian infection prevalence of 48.4% among neotropical migrant and Texas wintering birds. Among families, Icterids had the highest prevalence (75%, 24 individuals, 4 species sampled) whereas Parulids had the lowest prevalence (38.4%, 177 individuals, 18 species sampled). Among infected birds, Plasmodium spp. infections were more common than Haemoproteus spp. infections in species that winter in Central America compared to those that winter in the US or South America. Similarly, among infected birds, Plasmodium spp. infections were more common than Haemoproteus spp. infections in species that forage on the ground or in the understory compared to those that forage in the canopy. Infected birds harbored 65 different haemosporidian lineages (71% Plasmodium; 29% Haemoproteus) of which 17 lineages have never previously been reported and six lineages were documented for the first time in North America, having been previously detected only in Central or South America. These data are consistent with the premise that intercontinental parasite dispersal may be facilitated by passerine birds. Future studies focused on surveillance, the probability of establishment of parasite lineages, and the use of individual bird tracking methods to understand infection dispersion over time will allow a more comprehensive understanding of changing avian host-haemosporidian relationships.
author list (cited authors)
DeBrock, S., Cohen, E., Balasubramanian, S., Marra, P. P., & Hamer, S. A.