Main content area

Avian malaria on Madagascar: prevalence, biodiversity and specialization of haemosporidian parasites

Musa, Sandrine, Mackenstedt, Ute, Woog, Friederike, Dinkel, Anke
International journal for parasitology 2019 v.49 no.3-4 pp. 199-210
Haemoproteus, Leucocytozoon, Plasmodium, avian malaria, biodiversity, birds, cytochrome b, genes, host range, parasites, phylogeny, polymerase chain reaction, Madagascar
Previous studies about geographic patterns of species diversity of avian malaria parasites and others in the Order Haemosporida did not include the avian biodiversity hotspot Madagascar. Since there are few data available on avian malaria parasites on Madagascar, we conducted the first known large-scale molecular-based study to investigate their biodiversity. Samples (1067) from 55 bird species were examined by a PCR method amplifying nearly the whole haemosporidian cytochrome b gene (1063 bp). The parasite lineages found were further characterized phylogenetically and the degree of specialization was determined with a newly introduced host diversity index (Hd). Our results demonstrate that Madagascar indeed represents a biodiversity hotspot for avian malaria parasites as we detected 71 genetically distinct parasite lineages of the genera Plasmodium and Haemoproteus. Furthermore, by using a phylogenetic approach and including the sequence divergence we suspect that the detected haemosporidian lineages represent at least 29 groups i.e. proposed species. The here presented Hd values for each parasite regarding host species, genus and family strongly support previous works demonstrating the elastic host ranges of some avian parsites of the Order Haemosporida. Representatives of the avian parasite genera Plasmodium and Leucocytozoon tend to more often be generalists than those of the genus Haemoproteus. However, as demonstrated in various examples, there is a large overlap and single parasite lineages frequently deviate from this rule.