Linkage between mitochondrial cytochrome b lineages and morphospecies of two avian malaria parasites, with description of Plasmodium (Novyella) ashfordi sp. nov.
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Numerous lineages of avian malaria parasites of the genus Plasmodium have been deposited in GenBank. However, only seven morphospecies have been linked to these lineages. This study linked two molecular sequences with morphospecies of malaria parasites. Two species of Plasmodium (mitochondrial cytochrome b gene lineages P-GRW2 and P-GRW4) were isolated from naturally infected adult great reed warblers (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) and inoculated to naive juvenile individuals of the same host species. Heavy parasitemia developed in the subinoculated birds, which enable identification of the species and deposition of their voucher specimens. Parasites of the lineage P-GRW2 were described as a new species, Plasmodium (Novyella) ashfordi, which is characterized primarily by the fan-like mature erythrocytic meronts containing seven to eight merozoites and the terminal position of clumped pigment granules in the gametocytes. Illustrations of the blood stages of the new species and Plasmodium (Haemamoeba) relictum (lineage P-GRW4) are given. The parasites of both lineages are transmitted in Africa and probably not in northern Europe. Other lineages closely related to P. ashfordi and P. relictum are identified. This study establishes the value of PCR-based identification of avian malaria parasites.