Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 156, Issue 2, pp 371–380 | Cite as

Blood parasite prevalence in the Bluethroat is associated with subspecies and breeding habitat

  • Aleš Svoboda
  • Gunnhild Marthinsen
  • Václav Pavel
  • Bohumír Chutný
  • Lucia Turčoková
  • Jan T. Lifjeld
  • Arild Johnsen
Original Article


Long-distance migratory birds are potentially exposed to a range of blood sucking arthropods that transmit avian blood parasites. Because of differential vector exposure, the parasite fauna may vary in different habitat types, among populations, or even within populations where individuals travel to different areas during migration. We applied PCR-based molecular techniques to determine patterns of blood parasite occurrence in adults of seven geographically isolated Bluethroat populations, belonging to three distinct subspecies differing in habitat preferences and wintering areas (Luscinia svecica svecica, L. s. cyanecula, L. s. namnetum). Moreover, to elucidate potential transmission of blood parasites on breeding sites, we tested adults of the relatively sedentary White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) from a Norwegian population. Across populations, we detected infection of at least one blood parasite genus in 68.5 % (139/203) of adult Bluethroats. The most common parasite genus was Plasmodium (10 lineages, 33.5 % of surveyed individuals), present in all seven populations, followed by Leucocytozoon (four lineages, 31.5 %) and Haemoproteus (two lineages, 4.9 %). We recorded multiple infections in 26.1 % of individuals. Leucocytozoon was found only in svecica inhabiting mountainous/subalpine areas with high abundance of blackflies, the main vector for this parasite. In Plasmodium, two lineages (BT6 and GRW4) were confined to specimens from svecica populations. In contrast, Lineage SGS1 was dominated by southern birds of the subspecies cyanecula and namnetum. Our data suggest transmission of Leucocytozoon on the breeding grounds in Norway as the same lineages were found in relatively sedentary White-throated Dippers as in migratory Bluethroats. We discuss these results in light of the ecological differences between the host populations, affecting their exposure to potential blood parasite vectors.


Lusciniasvecica Migratory passerine Haemosporidians PCR-based detection 


Die Prävalenz von Blutparasiten beim Blaukehlchen ist verknüpft mit der Unterart und dem Bruthabitat

Langstreckenzieher sind potentiell einer Reihe von blutsaugenden Arthropoden ausgesetzt, die aviäre Blutparasiten übertragen. Da sie Vektoren unterschiedlich stark ausgesetzt sind, kann die Parasitenfaune variieren in verschiedenen Habitattypen, zwischen Population oder sogar innerhalb von Populationen, deren Individuen in unterschiedliche Gebiete ziehen. Zur Anwendung kamen PCR-basierte molekulare Techniken, um die Muster des Auftretens von Blutparasiten adulter Blaukehlchen aus sieben geografisch voneinander isolierten Populationen zu bestimmen. Die untersuchten Individuen gehören zu drei Unterarten, die sich in Habitatpräferenzen und Überwinterungsgebieten unterscheiden (Luscinia svecica svecica, L. s. cyanecula, L. s. namnetum). Zur Aufklärung einer potentiellen Übertragung von Blutparasiten in den Brutgebieten untersuchten wir darüber hinaus als Standvögel adulte Wasseramseln (Cinclus cinclus) einer norwegischen Population. In allen Populationen entdeckten wir eine Infektion mit mindestens einem Blutparasiten-Genus in 68,5 % (139/203) der adulten Blaukehlchen. Der häufigste Parasit, Plasmodium (10 Stämme, 33,5 % der untersuchten Individuen), konnte in allen sieben Populationen nachgewiesen werden. Darauf folgen Leukozytozoon (4 Stämme, 31,5 %) und Haemoproteus (2 Stämme, 4,9 %). Bei 26,1 % der Individuen beobachteten wir Mehrfachinfektionen. Leukozytozoon konnte nur bei ‘svecica-Individuen’ nachgewiesen werden. Diese Unterart besiedelt bergige/subalpine Gebiete mit hohen Dichten von Kriebelmücken, dem Hauptüberträger dieses Parasiten. Bei Plasmodium waren zwei Stämme (BT6 and GRW4) begrenzt auf Exemplare der svecica-Populationen. Im Gegensatz dazu war der Stamm SGS1 dominiert von südlichen Vögeln der Unterarten cyanecula und namnetum. Unsere Daten deuten auf eine Übertragung von Leukozytozoon in den norwegischen Brutgebieten hin, da die gleichen Stämme sowohl bei Wasseramseln als Standvögel als auch in Blaukehlchen als Zugvogelart gefunden wurden. Wir diskutieren diese Ergebnisse im Hinblick auf ökologische Unterschiede zwischen Wirtspopulationen, beeinflusst durch die Gefährdung einer potentiellen Übertragung von Blutparasiten.



We thank Hotel Luční bouda and the Administration of the Krkonoše National Park for their help with arranging the authors' stay in Krkonoše Mts. We are grateful to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (Abisko Scientific Research Station) and to Natalia Iovchenko (Saint Petersburg State University, Russian Federation) for logistic support, and to Sophie Questiau for providing blood samples from the namnetum population. Special thanks to Jarl A. Anmarkrud, Trond Øigarden, Oddmund Kleven, Anders Herfoss and Petr Nádvorník for their advices and help with lab work. Blood sampling was performed with permission from the relevant national authorities. Funding for this research was supplied by grants of the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports of the Czech Republic (MSM6198959212), by the Faculty of Science of Palacky University, the Research Council of Norway and the National Centre for Biosystematics, University of Oslo, Norway.


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aleš Svoboda
    • 1
  • Gunnhild Marthinsen
    • 2
  • Václav Pavel
    • 1
  • Bohumír Chutný
    • 3
  • Lucia Turčoková
    • 4
  • Jan T. Lifjeld
    • 2
  • Arild Johnsen
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Zoology and Laboratory of Ornithology, Faculty of SciencePalacky UniversityOlomoucCzech Republic
  2. 2.Natural History Museum, University of OsloOsloNorway
  3. 3.PragueCzech Republic
  4. 4.Katedra zoológie, Prírodovedecká fakultaUniverzita Komenského, Mlynská dolinaBratislava 4Slovakia

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