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J Anim Ecol. 2019 Sep 30. doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.13117. [Epub ahead of print]

An inverse latitudinal gradient in infection probability and phylogenetic diversity for Leucocytozoon blood parasites in New World birds.

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Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ecologia e Conservação da Biodiversidade, Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso, Cuiabá, Brazil.
Department of Biology, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND, USA.
Laboratório de Biologia Evolutiva e Comportamento Animal, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA), Manaus, Brazil.
Department of Surgery, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.
Integrative Research Center, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL, USA.
Centro de Investigación Esquel de Montaña y Estepa Patagónica (CIEMEP), CONICET - Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan Bosco, Esquel, Argentina.
Laboratorio de Parásitos y Enfermedades de Fauna Silvestre, Facultad de Ciencias Veterinarias, Universidad de Concepción, Chillán, Chile.
Núcleo de Estudos em Malária, Superintendência de Controle de Endemias, Instituto de Medicina Tropical de São Paulo, Universidade de São Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Laboratório de Ecologia de Aves, Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso, Cuiabá, Brazil.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.
Laboratório de Ornitologia, Museu de Ciências e Tecnologia e Programa de Pós-graduação em Ecologia e Evolução da Biodiversidade, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.
Laboratório de Evolução e Biogeografia, Universidade Federal da Bahia, Salvador, Brazil.
Department of Ornithology, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Department of Biodiversity, Earth, and Environmental Science, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
School of Veterinary Science, University of Queensland, Gatton, Qld, Australia.


Geographic variation in environmental conditions as well as host traits that promote parasite transmission may impact infection rates and community assembly of vector-transmitted parasites. Identifying the ecological, environmental and historical determinants of parasite distributions and diversity is therefore necessary to understand disease outbreaks under changing environments. Here, we identified the predictors and contributions of infection probability and phylogenetic diversity of Leucocytozoon (an avian blood parasite) at site and species levels across the New World. To explore spatial patterns in infection probability and lineage diversity for Leucocytozoon parasites, we surveyed 69 bird communities from Alaska to Patagonia. Using phylogenetic Bayesian hierarchical models and high-resolution satellite remote-sensing data, we determined the relative influence of climate, landscape, geography and host phylogeny on regional parasite community assembly. Infection rates and parasite diversity exhibited considerable variation across regions in the Americas. In opposition to the latitudinal gradient hypothesis, both the diversity and prevalence of Leucocytozoon parasites decreased towards the equator. Host relatedness and traits known to promote vector exposure neither predicted infection probability nor parasite diversity. Instead, the probability of a bird being infected with Leucocytozoon increased with increasing vegetation cover (NDVI) and moisture levels (NDWI), whereas the diversity of parasite lineages decreased with increasing NDVI. Infection rates and parasite diversity also tended to be higher in cooler regions and higher latitudes. Whereas temperature partially constrains Leucocytozoon diversity and infection rates, landscape features, such as vegetation cover and water body availability, play a significant role in modulating the probability of a bird being infected. This suggests that, for Leucocytozoon, the barriers to host shifting and parasite host range expansion are jointly determined by environmental filtering and landscape, but not by host phylogeny. Our results show that integrating host traits, host ancestry, bioclimatic data and microhabitat characteristics that are important for vector reproduction are imperative to understand and predict infection prevalence and diversity of vector-transmitted parasites. Unlike other vector-transmitted diseases, our results show that Leucocytozoon diversity and prevalence will likely decrease with warming temperatures.


NDVI; community assembly; latitudinal diversity gradient; macroecology; parasite distribution; parasite diversity; phylogenetic diversity


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