Prevalence Patterns of Avian Plasmodium and Haemoproteus Parasites and the Influence of Host Relative Abundance in Southern China

Infectious diseases threaten the health and survival of wildlife populations. Consequently, relationships between host diversity, host abundance, and parasite infection are important aspects of disease ecology and conservation research. Here, we report on the prevalence patterns of avian Plasmodium and Haemoproteus infections and host relative abundance influence based on sampling 728 wild-caught birds representing 124 species at seven geographically widespread sites in southern China. The overall prevalence of two haemoprotozoan parasites, Plasmodium and Haemoproteus, was 29.5%, with 22.0% attributable to Haemoproteus and 7.8% to Plasmodium. Haemoproteus prevalence differed significantly among different avian host families, with the highest prevalence in Nectariniidae, Pycnonotidae and Muscicapidae, whereas Plasmodium prevalence varied significantly among host species. Seventy-nine mitochondrial lineages including 25 from Plasmodium and 54 from Haemoproteus were identified, 80% of which were described here for the first time. The phylogenetic relationships among these parasites indicated stronger host-species specificity for Haemoproteus than Plasmodium. Well-supported host-family (Timaliidae) specific clades were found in both Plasmodium and Haemoproteus. The Haemoproteus tree shows regional subclades, whereas the Plasmodium clades are “scattered” among different geographical regions. Interestingly, there were statistically significant variations in the prevalence of Plasmodium and Haemoproteus among the geographical regions. Furthermore, the prevalence of Plasmodium and Haemoproteus were not significantly correlated with host relative abundance. Further efforts will focus on exploring the relationships between parasite prevalence and sex, age, and immune defense of the host.