, Volume 142, Issue 3, pp 235-249
Date: 01 Jun 2014

Distribution, prevalence and host specificity of avian malaria parasites across the breeding range of the migratory lark sparrow (Chondestes grammacus)

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The lark sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) is a ground-nesting passerine that breeds across much of the central North American steppe and sand barrens. Through genotyping and sequencing of avian malaria parasites we examined levels of malaria prevalence and determined the distribution of Haemoproteus and Plasmodium lineages across the breeding range of the lark sparrow. Analysis of 365 birds collected from five breeding locations revealed relatively high levels of malaria prevalence in adults (80 %) and juveniles (46 %), with infections being primarily of Haemoproteus (91 % of sequenced samples). Levels of genetic diversity and genetic structure of malaria parasites with respect to the avian host populations revealed distinct patterns for Haemoproteus and Plasmodium, most likely as a result of their distinct life histories, host specificity, and transmission vectors. With the exception of one common Haemoproteus haplotype detected in all populations, all other haplotypes were either population-specific or shared by two to three populations. A hierarchical analysis of molecular variance of Haemoproteus sequences revealed that 15–18 % of the genetic variation can be explained by differences among host populations/locations (p < 0.001). In contrast to the regional patterns of genetic differentiation detected for the lark sparrow populations, Haemoproteus parasites showed high levels of population-specific variation and no significant differences among regions, which suggests that the population dynamics of the parasites may be driven by evolutionary processes operating at small spatial scales (e.g., at the level of host populations). These results highlight the potential effects of host population structure on the demographic and evolutionary dynamics of parasites.