Parasitology Research

, 104:1061 | Cite as

New malaria parasites of the subgenus Novyella in African rainforest birds, with remarks on their high prevalence, classification and diagnostics

  • Gediminas ValkiūnasEmail author
  • Tatjana A. Iezhova
  • Claire Loiseau
  • Thomas B. Smith
  • Ravinder N. M. Sehgal
Original Paper


Blood samples from 655 passerine birds were collected in rainforests of Ghana and Cameroon and examined both by microscopy and polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based techniques. The overall prevalence of Plasmodium spp. was 46.6%, as determined by combining the results of both these diagnostic methods. In comparison to PCR-based diagnostics, microscopic examination of blood films was more sensitive in determining simultaneous infection of Plasmodium spp., but both detection methods showed similar trends of prevalence of malaria parasites in the same study sites. Plasmodium (Novyella) lucens n. sp., Plasmodium (Novyella) multivacuolaris n. sp. and Plasmodium (Novyella) parahexamerium n. sp. were found in the olive sunbird Cyanomitra olivacea (Nectariniidae), yellow-whiskered greenbul Andropadus latirostris (Picnonotidae), and white-tailed alethe Alethe diademata (Turdidae), respectively. These parasites are described based on the morphology of their blood stages and a segment of the mitochondrial cytochrome b (cyt b) gene, which can be used for molecular identification and diagnosis of these species. Illustrations of blood stages of new species are given, and phylogenetic analysis identifies DNA lineages closely related to these parasites. Malaria parasites of the subgenus Novyella with small erythrocytic meronts clearly predominate in African passerines. It is probable that the development of such meronts is a characteristic feature of evolution of Plasmodium spp. in African rainforest birds. Subgeneric taxonomy of avian Plasmodium spp. is discussed based on the recent molecular phylogenies of these parasites. It is concluded that a multi-genome phylogeny is needed before revising the current subgeneric classification of Plasmodium. We supported a hypothesis by Hellgren, Križanauskienė, Valkiūnas, Bensch (J Parasitol 93:889–896, 2007), according to which, haemosporidian species with a genetic differentiation of over 5% in mitochondrial cyt b gene are expected to be morphologically differentiated. This study emphasises the importance of employing both PCR-based and microscopic methods in taxonomic, ecological and evolutionary investigations of avian haemosporidian parasites.


Plasmodium Blood Film Infected Erythrocyte Pigment Granule Infected Bird 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors are grateful to Alan Warren, Natural History Museum, London for providing the type material of P. vaughani and P. hexamerium and Gillian McIntosh, San Francisco State University for consultations on the Latin language. We would like to thank Anthony Chasar, Tom Dietsch and Augustus Asamoah for help in the field. The present study was supported by the joint NSF-NIH (USA) Ecology of Infectious Diseases Program award EF-0430146, the Lithuanian State Science and Studies Foundation and SYNTHESYS. The investigations described herein comply with the current laws of the USA and Lithuania.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gediminas Valkiūnas
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tatjana A. Iezhova
    • 1
  • Claire Loiseau
    • 2
  • Thomas B. Smith
    • 3
  • Ravinder N. M. Sehgal
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of EcologyVilnius UniversityVilnius-21Lithuania
  2. 2.Department of BiologySan Francisco State UniversitySan FranciscoUSA
  3. 3.Center for Tropical ResearchUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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