Emu Emu Society
Journal of BirdLife Australia
RESEARCH ARTICLE

High prevalence of blood parasites in social birds from a neotropical savanna in Brazil

Alan Fecchio A F , Marcos Robalinho Lima B , Patrícia Silveira C , Érika Martins Braga D and Miguel Ângelo Marini E

A Programa de Pós-graduação em Biologia Animal, Universidade de Brasília, Brasília, DF 70919-970, Brazil.

B Programa de Pós-graduação em Ecologia, Universidade de Brasília, Brasília, DF 70910-900, Brazil.

C Programa de Pós-graduação em Parasitologia, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, MG 31270-901, Brazil.

D Departamento de Parasitologia, ICB, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, MG 31270-901, Brazil.

E Departamento de Zoologia, ICB, Universidade de Brasília, Brasília, DF 70910-900, Brazil.

F Corresponding author. Email: alanfecchio@yahoo.com.br

Emu 111(2) 132-138 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MU10063
Submitted: 23 July 2010  Accepted: 14 December 2010   Published: 3 May 2011

Abstract

Blood parasites play a fundamental role in the ecology and evolution of passerine birds because they are able to affect the fitness and survival of their hosts. The prevalence of avian malarial parasites among host species can vary from 0 to 100% but the ecological and evolutionary reasons for this variation are not clear. In this study we tested if height or type of nest, body mass or social system, which we believe are variables associated with exposure of hosts to vectors, could explain the variation in the prevalence of blood parasites in a bird community from the Cerrado biome of central Brazil. We found a significant positive correlation between nest-height and prevalence of Haemoproteus, which is consistent with the hypothesis linking prevalence of blood parasites with nesting stratum in North American birds. We also found evidence for increased levels of parasitism by Haemoproteus in neotropical birds that live in groups and breed cooperatively and increased levels of parasitism by Plasmodium in species that nest in cavities or closed cups. We suggest that reproductive and behavioural parameters of hosts may be responsible for their differential exposure to vectors and that these parameters may therefore be able to indicate interspecific variation in the prevalence of blood parasites in other bird communities.

Additional keywords: avian malaria, breeding biology, haemosporidian parasites.


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