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Mol Ecol. 2009 Oct;18(19):4121-33. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2009.04346.x. Epub 2009 Sep 15.

Prevalence and diversity patterns of avian blood parasites in degraded African rainforest habitats.

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Department of Biology, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA 94132, USA.


Land use changes including deforestation, road construction and agricultural encroachments have been linked to the increased prevalence of several infectious diseases. In order to better understand how deforestation affects the prevalence of vector-borne infectious diseases in wildlife, nine paired sites were sampled (disturbed vs. undisturbed habitats) in Southern Cameroon. We studied the diversity, prevalence and distribution of avian malaria parasites (Plasmodium spp.) and other related haemosporidians (species of Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon) from these sites in two widespread species of African rainforest birds, the yellow-whiskered greenbul (Andropadus latirostris, Pycnonotidae) and the olive sunbird (Cyanomitra olivacea, Nectariniidae). Twenty-six mitochondrial cytochrome b lineages were identified: 20 Plasmodium lineages and 6 Haemoproteus lineages. These lineages showed no geographic specificity, nor significant differences in lineage diversity between habitat types. However, we found that the prevalence of Leucocytozoon and Haemoproteus infections were significantly higher in undisturbed than in deforested habitats (Leucocytozoon spp. 50.3% vs. 35.8%, Haemoproteus spp. 16.3% vs. 10.8%). We also found higher prevalence for all haemosporidian parasites in C. olivacea than in A. latirostris species (70.2% vs. 58.2%). Interestingly, we found one morphospecies of Plasmodium in C. olivacea, as represented by a clade of related lineages, showed increased prevalence at disturbed sites, while another showed a decrease, testifying to different patterns of transmission, even among closely related lineages of avian malaria, in relation to deforestation. Our work demonstrates that anthropogenic habitat change can affect host-parasite systems and result in opposing trends in prevalence of haemosporidian parasites in wild bird populations.

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