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Molecular phylogenetic and morphological analysis of haemosporidian parasites (Haemosporida) in a naturally infected European songbird, the blackcap Sylvia atricapilla, with description of Haemoproteus pallidulus sp. nov.


The blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) is a common Palearctic migratory warbler, and haemosporidian parasites are common in this species. However, genetic and phenotypic diversity of haemosporidians in warblers has been insufficiently investigated and poorly linked. We addressed this issue by combining molecular and microscopy data for detection of pigment-forming haemosporidians of the genera Haemoproteus and Plasmodium. Blood samples from 498 blackcaps were collected at 7 different sites in Europe and investigated for these parasites by polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based techniques and microscopic examination. In all, 56% of the birds were infected by at least 1 out of 25 distinct mitochondrial cytochrome b (cyt b) gene lineages of these haemosporidians. It is concluded that the blackcap is infected not only with blackcap specific haemosporidians, but also with Haemoproteus majoris, which is a host generalist and common in birds belonging to the Paridae. Haemoproteus pallidulus sp. nov. is described based on morphology of its blood stages and segments of the cyt b and dihydrofolate reductase/thymidylate synthase (DHFR-TS) genes. This study provides evidence that genetic diversity of haemosporidian parasites might be positively correlated with migratory strategies of their avian hosts; it also contributes to the value of both microscopy and molecular diagnostics of avian blood parasites.

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*Corresponding author: Institute of Ecology, Vilnius University, Akademijos 2, LT-08412 Vilnius, Lithuania. Tel: + 370 5 272 92 69. Fax: + 370 5 272 93 52. E-mail:
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