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Description and molecular characterization of novel Leucocytozoon parasite (Apicomplexa: Haemosporida: Leucocytozoidae), Leucocytozoon polynuclearis n. sp. found in North American woodpeckers

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We describe Leucocytozoon polynuclearis n. sp. (Haemosporida: Leucocytozoidae) from two North American woodpeckers, the northern flicker (Colaptes auratus Linnaeus) and white-headed woodpecker (Dryobates albolarvatus Boie, 1826), based on the morphology of its blood stages and portions of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene. The most distinctive features of Leucocytozoon polynuclearis n. sp. development are the triangular-shaped host cell nuclei and position of host cell nuclei above gametocytes. This parasite inhabits thrombocytes. Leucocytozoon squamatus Nandi, 1986, the only other Leucocytozoon species detected from Picidae birds, lacks features that are commonly found with L. polynuclearis n. sp. infections. Phylogenetic analysis identified DNA lineages associated with L. polynuclearis n. sp. and showed that this parasite is more closely related to other North American Leucocytozoon species than to L. squamatus, whose initial description was from infected Old World Picidae species. Although there are reports of L. squamatus in North American Picidae species, these detections were based only on microscopic examinations, remain genetically non-characterized, and might be misidentifications with regards to L. polynuclearis n. sp. Available parasite distribution data indicate that L. polynuclearis n. sp. infects Picidae species throughout North America and L. squamatus distribution probably is restricted to Old World Piciformes birds.

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This work was supported under a joint venture agreement between the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Olympia, WA and San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA. Open Access to research infrastructure of the Nature Research Centre under Lithuanian open access network initiative is acknowledged.


This work was supported under a joint venture agreement between the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Olympia, WA and San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, as well as the Open Access to research infrastructure of the Nature Research Centre, Vilnius under Lithuanian open access network initiative.

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TCG did the bulk of the field and molecular work, TJL organized the field work and initiated the project. TAI and GV did the microscopy and described the parasite. RNMS coordinated the work and conceived of the project. TCG, GV and RNMS wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Ravinder N. M. Sehgal.

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All bird handling was conducted in compliance with the Ornithological Council Guidelines for the Use of Wild Birds in Research (Fair et al., 2010) and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (Proposal number 2016-007).

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Groff, T.C., Lorenz, T.J., Iezhova, T.A. et al. Description and molecular characterization of novel Leucocytozoon parasite (Apicomplexa: Haemosporida: Leucocytozoidae), Leucocytozoon polynuclearis n. sp. found in North American woodpeckers. Syst Parasitol 99, 103–114 (2022).

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