Temporal dynamics and diversity of avian malaria parasites in a single host species

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


We have used molecular methods to unravel a remarkable diversity of parasite lineages in a long-term population study of great reed warblers Acrocephalus arundinaceus that was not foreseen from traditional microscopic examination of blood smears. This diversity includes eight Haemoproteus and 10 Plasmodium lineages of which most probably represent good biological species.Contrary to expectation, the relative frequency of parasite lineages seemed not to change over the 17-year study period and we found no effects of the parasites on a male secondary sexual ornament (song repertoire size) and two measures of fitness (adult survival and production of recruited offspring).We discuss whether the absence of fitness consequences of the parasites might relate to the fact that we have studied the host at the breeding sites in Europe, whereas the transmission seems to take place at the wintering sites in Africa, where the naive birds encounter the parasites for the first time and the resulting primary infections likely make them sicker than during the chronic phase of the infection.The prevalence of the three most common lineages appeared to fluctuate in parallel with a periodicity of approximately 3-4 years. Theoretical models based on intrinsic interactions between parasite antigen and host immune genes cannot explain such dynamics, suggesting that knowledge of extrinsic parameters such as vector distribution and alternative hosts are required to understand these patterns.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biological Sciences


  • Plasmodium, coevolution, host-parasite, Acrocephalus arundinaceus, Haemproteus, sexual selection, cytochrome b
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-122
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Publication categoryResearch