Molecular characterization of five widespread avian haemosporidian parasites (Haemosporida), with perspectives on the PCR-based detection of haemosporidians in wildlife

  • Valkiunas G
  • Palinauskas V
  • Ilgunas M
 et al. 
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Haemosporidians (Haemosporida) are cosmopolitan in birds. Over 250 species of these blood parasites have been described and named; however, molecular markers remain unidentified for the great majority of them. This is unfortunate because linkage between DNA sequences and identifications based on morphological species can provide important information about patterns of transmission, virulence, and evolutionary biology of these organisms. There is an urgent need to remedy this because few experts possess the knowledge to identify haemosporidian species and few laboratories are involved in training these taxonomic skills. Here, we describe new mitochondrial cytochrome b markers for the polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based detection of four widespread species of avian Haemoproteus (Haemoproteus hirundinis, Haemoproteus parabelopolskyi, Haemoproteus pastoris, Haemoproteus syrnii) and 1 species of Plasmodium (Plasmodium circumflexum). Illustrations of blood stages of the reported species are given, and morphological and phylogenetic analyses identify the DNA lineages that are associated with these parasites. This study indicates that morphological characters, which have been traditionally used in taxonomy of avian haemosporidian parasites, have a phylogenetic value. Perspectives on haemosporidian diagnostics using microscopic and PCR-based methods are discussed, particularly the difficulties in detection of light parasitemia, coinfections, and abortive parasite development. We emphasize that sensitive PCR amplifies more infections than can be transmitted; it should be used carefully in epidemiology studies, particularly in wildlife parasitology research. Because molecular studies are describing remarkably more parasite diversity than previously expected, the need for traditional taxonomy and traditional biological knowledge is becoming all the more crucial. The linkage of molecular and morphological approaches is worth more of the attention of researchers because this approach provides new knowledge for better understanding insufficiently investigated lethal diseases caused by haemosporidian infections, particularly on the exoerythrocytic (tissue) and vector stages. That requires close collaboration between researchers from different fields with a common interest.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Barcoding
  • Bird
  • Haemoproteus
  • Haemosporidian parasite
  • PCR diagnostic perspective
  • Plasmodium

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