Prevalence and genetic diversity of avian haemosporidian parasites in wild bird species of the order Columbiformes.
Schumm, Yvonne R
Cecere, Jacopo G
Masello, Juan F
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Diseases can play a role in species decline. Among them, haemosporidian parasites, vector-transmitted protozoan parasites, are known to constitute a risk for different avian species. However, the magnitude of haemosporidian infection in wild columbiform birds, including strongly decreasing European turtle doves, is largely unknown. We examined the prevalence and diversity of haemosporidian parasites Plasmodium, Leucocytozoon and subgenera Haemoproteus and Parahaemoproteus in six species of the order Columbiformes during breeding season and migration by applying nested PCR, one-step multiplex PCR assay and microscopy. We detected infections in 109 of the 259 screened individuals (42%), including 15 distinct haemosporidian mitochondrial cytochrome b lineages, representing five H. (Haemoproteus), two H. (Parahaemoproteus), five Leucocytozoon and three Plasmodium lineages. Five of these lineages have never been described before. We discriminated between single and mixed infections and determined host species-specific prevalence for each parasite genus. Observed differences among sampled host species are discussed with reference to behavioural characteristics, including nesting and migration strategy. Our results support previous suggestions that migratory birds have a higher prevalence and diversity of blood parasites than resident or short-distance migratory species. A phylogenetic reconstruction provided evidence for H. (Haemoproteus) as well as H. (Parahaemoproteus) infections in columbiform birds. Based on microscopic examination, we quantified parasitemia, indicating the probability of negative effects on the host. This study provides a large-scale baseline description of haemosporidian infections of wild birds belonging to the order Columbiformes sampled in the northern hemisphere. The results enable the monitoring of future changes in parasite transmission areas, distribution and diversity associated with global change, posing a potential risk for declining avian species as the European turtle dove.