Robust geographical determinants of infection prevalence and a contrasting latitudinal diversity gradient for haemosporidian parasites in Western Palearctic birds

Molecular Ecology
By: , and 

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Abstract

Identifying robust environmental predictors of infection probability is central to forecasting and mitigating the ongoing impacts of climate change on vector-borne disease threats. We applied phylogenetic hierarchical models to a dataset of 2,171 Western Palearctic individual birds from 47 species to determine how climate and landscape variation influence infection probability for three genera of haemosporidian blood parasites (Haemoproteus, Leucocytozoon, and Plasmodium). Our comparative models found compelling evidence that birds in areas with higher vegetation density (captured by the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) had higher likelihoods of carrying parasite infection. Magnitudes of this relationship were remarkably similar across parasite genera considering that these parasites use different arthropod vectors and are widely presumed to be epidemiologically distinct. However, we also uncovered key differences among genera that highlighted complexities in their climate responses. In particular, prevalences of Haemoproteus and Plasmodium showed strong but contrasting relationships with winter temperatures, supporting mounting evidence that winter warming is a key environmental filter impacting the dynamics of host-parasite interactions. Parasite phylogenetic community diversities demonstrated a clear but contrasting latitudinal gradient, with Haemoproteus diversity increasing towards the equator and Leucocytozoon diversity increasing towards the poles. Haemoproteus diversity also increased in regions with higher vegetation density, supporting our evidence that summer vegetation density is important for structuring the distributions of these parasites. Ongoing variation in winter temperatures and vegetation characteristics will likely have far-reaching consequences for the transmission and spread of vector-borne diseases.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Robust geographical determinants of infection prevalence and a contrasting latitudinal diversity gradient for haemosporidian parasites in Western Palearctic birds
Series title Molecular Ecology
DOI 10.1111/mec.15545
Edition Online First
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
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