This study documents the presence of Plasmodium spp. in landbirds of central Polynesia. Blood samples collected from eight native and introduced species from the island of Tutuila, American Samoa were evaluated for the presence of Plasmodium spp. by nested rDNA PCR, serology and/or microscopy. A total of 111/188 birds (59%) screened by nested PCR were positive. Detection of Plasmodium spp. was verified by nucleotide sequence comparisons of partial 18S ribosomal RNA and TRAP (thrombospondin-related anonymous protein) genes using phylogenetic analyses. All samples screened by immunoblot to detect antibodies that cross-react with Hawaiian isolates of Plasmodium relictum (153) were negative. Lack of cross-reactivity is probably due to antigenic differences between the Hawaiian and Samoan Plasmodium isolates. Similarly, all samples examined by microscopy (214) were negative. The fact that malaria is present, but not detectable by blood smear evaluation is consistent with low peripheral parasitemia characteristic of chronic infections. High prevalence of apparently chronic infections, the relative stability of the native land bird communities, and the presence of mosquito vectors which are considered endemic and capable of transmitting avian Plasmodia, suggest that these parasites are indigenous to Samoa and have a long coevolutionary history with their hosts.
Additional publication details
Detection of avian malaria (Plasmodium spp.) in native land birds of American Samoa