Genetic characterization, distribution and prevalence of avian pox and avian malaria in the Berthelot’s pipit (Anthus berthelotii) in Macaronesia
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Exotic pathogens have been implicated in the decline and extinction of various native-island-bird species. Despite the fact that there is increasing concern about the introduction of diseases in island ecosystems, little is known about parasites in the islands of Macaronesia. We focus on Berthelot’s pipit (Anthus berthelotii), an endemic and widespread Macaronesian bird species, using a combination of field studies and molecular techniques to determine: (1) the range and prevalence of avian pox and malaria in Berthelot’s pipits throughout the species’ distribution, (2) the genetic characterization of both parasites in order to ascertain the level of host specificity. We sampled 447 pipits across the 12 islands inhabited by this species. Overall, 8% of all individuals showed evidence of pox lesions and 16% were infected with avian malaria, respectively. We observed marked differences in the prevalence of parasites among islands both within and between archipelagos. Avian pox prevalence varied between 0–54% within and between archipelagos and avian malaria prevalence varied between 0–64% within and between archipelagos. The diversity of pathogens detected was low: only two genetic lineages of avian malaria and one lineage of avian pox were found to infect the pipit throughout its range. Interestingly, both avian malaria parasites found were Plasmodium spp. that had not been previously reported in the Macaronesian avifauna (but that had been observed in the lesser kestrel Falco naumannii), while the avian pox was a host specific lineage that had previously been reported on two of the Canary Islands.