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Ecol Lett. 2019 Mar;22(3):547-557. doi: 10.1111/ele.13215. Epub 2019 Jan 13.

Climate variation influences host specificity in avian malaria parasites.

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Laboratório de Evolução e Biogeografia, Universidade Federal da Bahia, Rua Barão de Jeremoabo 147, Salvador, BA, 40170115, Brazil.
Department of Biosciences, Swansea University, Swansea, SA2 8PP, UK.
Department of Biology, University of North Dakota, 1 Campus Drive and Cornell Street, Grand Forks, ND, 58202, USA.
Department of Biology, University of North Dakota, 10 Cornell Street, Grand Forks, ND, 58202, USA.
Department of Surgery, University of Chicago, 5812 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL, 606372, USA.
Integrative Research Center, Field Museum of Natural History, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL, 60605, USA.
Department of Ornithology, Academy of Natural Sciences and Department of Biodiversity, Earth, and Environmental Sciences, Drexel University, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA, 19103, USA.
Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX1 3PS, UK.
School of Veterinary Science, University of Queensland, Gatton, Qld, Australia.


Parasites with low host specificity (e.g. infecting a large diversity of host species) are of special interest in disease ecology, as they are likely more capable of circumventing ecological or evolutionary barriers to infect new hosts than are specialist parasites. Yet for many parasites, host specificity is not fixed and can vary in response to environmental conditions. Using data on host associations for avian malaria parasites (Apicomplexa: Haemosporida), we develop a hierarchical model that quantifies this environmental dependency by partitioning host specificity variation into region- and parasite-level effects. Parasites were generally phylogenetic host specialists, infecting phylogenetically clustered subsets of available avian hosts. However, the magnitude of this specialisation varied biogeographically, with parasites exhibiting higher host specificity in regions with more pronounced rainfall seasonality and wetter dry seasons. Recognising the environmental dependency of parasite specialisation can provide useful leverage for improving predictions of infection risk in response to global climate change.


avian malaria; climate change; disease ecology; disease emergence; host shifting; host specificity; infectious disease; niche specialisation; parasite specialisation; vector borne disease


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