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Low diversity and high intra-island variation in prevalence of avian Haemoproteus parasites on Barbados, Lesser Antilles

  • L. MARIA (a1), E. SVENSSON (a1) and ROBERT E. RICKLEFS (a1)

Common bird species were screened during May and June 2007 on Barbados for haemosporidian parasites (Haemosporida) of the genera Haemoproteus and Plasmodium to determine whether the low parasite diversity reported in previous studies might have reflected limited sampling. PCR screening and DNA sequencing revealed a single predominant lineage of Haemoproteus identified as H. coatneyi. Sixty-two out of 257 birds were infected with Haemoproteus spp. on Barbados in 2007. Fifty-nine of the infections were identified as H. coatneyi (lineage HC), the only lineage recovered in the previous study in 1993. Two of the infections recovered from the bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) were identified as Haemoproteus spp. (lineage HD), which is the prevalent haemosporidian parasite in C. flaveola on Grenada. We discuss the possibility of infrequent colonization events and absence of vectors as explanations for Barbados's low avian haemosporidian diversity. In our study, the parasites were absent from the southeast of the island, whereas they were abundant in several host species in the northwest. Accordingly, environmental and host population genetic differences were also investigated between the areas with and without parasites. No host genetic differences were found between the parasite-free and the parasite-afflicted regions. However, the parasite-free region is slightly warmer and drier, and it supports less vegetation than the parasite-afflicted region. The influence that this harsher environment may have on vector survival is discussed.

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