Introduced avian diseases pose a significant threat to forest birds on isolated island archipelagos, especially where most passerines are endemic and many groups of blood-sucking arthropods are either absent or only recently introduced. We conducted a blood parasite survey of forest birds from the main islands of American Samoa to obtain baseline information about the identity, distribution and prevalence of hematozoan parasites in this island group. We examined Giemsa-stained blood smears from 857 individual birds representing 20 species on Tutuila, Ofu, Olosega, and Ta'u islands. Four hematozoan parasites were identified - Plasmodium circumflexum (1%, 12/857), Trypanosoma avium (4%, 32/857), microfilaria (9%, 76/857), and an Atoxoplasma sp. (<1%, 2/857). Infections were found in seven indigenous bird species from the archipelago. Overall prevalence of infection varied significantly among bird species, individual islands, and between Tutuila and the more isolated Manu'a group of islands. Infections with Plasmodium, Trypanosoma, and filarial worms occurred throughout the archipelago, including islands without introduced birds. There was a statistically significant difference in the overall prevalence of infection before and after Hurricane Olaf in February 2005, suggesting that catastrophic hurricanes may influence the dynamics of parasite infections. Given the central location of American Samoa in the South Pacific, it is likely that avian malaria and other hematozoan parasites are indigenous and widespread at least as far as the central South Pacific. Their natural occurrence may provide some immunological protection to indigenous birds in the event that other closely related parasites are accidentally introduced to the region.
Additional publication details
Hematozoa of forest birds in American Samoa - Evidence for a diverse, indigenous parasite fauna from the South Pacific