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Front Zool. 2011 Oct 31;8(1):26. doi: 10.1186/1742-9994-8-26.

Prevalence of blood parasites in seabirds - a review.

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  • 1Max-Planck-Institut für Ornithologie, Vogelwarte Radolfzell, Schlossallee 2, 78315 Radolfzell, Germany.



While blood parasites are common in many birds in the wild, some groups seem to be much less affected. Seabirds, in particular, have often been reported free from blood parasites, even in the presence of potential vectors.


From a literature review of hemosporidian prevalence in seabirds, we collated a dataset of 60 species, in which at least 15 individuals had been examined. These data were included in phylogenetically controlled statistical analyses of hemosporidian prevalence in relation to ecological and life-history parameters. Haemoproteus parasites were common in frigatebirds and gulls, while Hepatozoon occurred in albatrosses and storm petrels, and Plasmodium mainly in penguins. The prevalence of Haemoproteus showed a geographical signal, being lower in species with distribution towards polar environments. Interspecific differences in Plasmodium prevalence were explained by variables that relate to the exposure to parasites, suggesting that prevalence is higher in burrow nesters with long fledgling periods. Measures of Plasmodium, but not Haemoproteus prevalences were influenced by the method, with PCR-based data resulting in higher prevalence estimates.


Our analyses suggest that, as in other avian taxa, phylogenetic, ecological and life-history parameters determine the prevalence of hemosporidian parasites in seabirds. We discuss how these relationships should be further explored in future studies.

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