Hidden haemosporidian infections in Ruffs (Philomachus pugnax) staging in Northwest Europe en route from Africa to Arctic Europe
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In their African freshwater wintering habitats, shorebirds show a high prevalence of blood parasites, whereas no parasites are detected elsewhere along the migration route. We looked at two genera of haemosporidian parasites, Haemoproteus and Plasmodium, in the long-distance migrating Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) along a geographical/seasonal gradient to verify the infection pattern and examine possible hidden organ infections at European staging areas. We amplified parasite DNA from blood of 53 healthy birds wintering in Mali, 53 samples of seven organ tissues (spleen, liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, and pectoral muscle) from healthy individuals caught during spring migration, and 18 weak birds found sick in summer in The Netherlands. We confirm that Ruffs wintering in Africa carried blood infections and that some infections developed into hidden organ infections during spring migration. Moreover, sick birds either had new infections (in one juvenile) or relapses (in an adult harboring an African lineage). Our results suggest that some parasites develop latency. This strategy may be beneficial for the parasite as it may take control over reappearance in the blood to help further transmission.
KeywordsPlasmodium Niger Delta Spring Migration Haemosporidian Parasite African Lineage
The authors thank the many volunteer bird catchers in southwest Friesland that captured the Ruffs, Leon Kelder for collecting and making available to diseased birds from Kreupel, and Deborah M. Buehler and Yvonne Verkuil for their valuable comments on the manuscript. This is a contribution from the Moncloa Campus of International Excellence of the Complutense and the Polytechnic Universities of Madrid (through JPT).
This project was supported by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (ref: PTDC/BIA-BDE/64063/2006). LM was also supported by FCT (ref: SFRH/BPD/20682/2004). JPT was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (grant no. CGL2010-15734/BOS). TP was supported by an operational grant from the University of Groningen.
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