Abstract:

Plasmodium spp. are haemosporidian protozoans that alternate their live cycles between bloodsucking Culicidae dipterans and vertebrate hosts (mammals, reptiles, and birds). In birds, these parasites are the causative agents of the so-called avian malaria, a disease associated with considerable declines and extinctions in the avifauna in different geographical regions. In this work, we applied a multidisciplinary approach, light microscopy and cytochrome oxidase b (cyt b) gene sequence analysis, for characterization of Plasmodium spp. found in association with wild birds of the genus Turdus, collected in Atlantic forest fragments of southeastern Brazil. From the total 90 analyzed birds, 58 (47 Turdus rufiventris, 9 Turdus leucomelas, 1 Turdus albicollis, and 1 Turdus flavipes) were positively infected with Plasmodium unalis, a haemosporidian that was previously detected in Turdus fuscater in Colombia and in penguins in Brazil, but has never been found in association with these Turdus species of this present work. Moreover, all 7 new sequences of P. unalis cyt b gene clustered into a monophyletic clade with previously characterized P. unalis sequences with a mean genetic divergence of 1.6% and with a maximum divergence of 3.1%, indicating for a high degree of intraspecific polymorphism within this parasitic species. Together, our data highlight the existence a high degree of intraspecific variation within P. unalis and highlight the importance of integrative taxonomy to an accurate identification and characterization of avian haemosporidian parasites.

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