Species of Leucocytozoon (Haemosporida, Leucocytozoidae) traditionally have been described based on morphological characters of their blood stages and host cells, with limited information on their avian host specificity. Based on the current taxonomy, Leucocytozoon toddi is the sole valid species of leucocytozoids parasitizing falconiform birds. Using a nested polymerase chain reaction protocol, we determined the prevalence of Leucocytozoon infection in 5 species of diurnal raptors from California. Of 591 birds tested, 177 (29.9%) were infected with Leucocytozoon toddi. Subsequent phylogenetic analysis of the cytochrome b gene revealed that distinct haplotypes are present in hawks of these genera. Haplotypes present in Buteo spp. are not found in Accipiter spp., and there is a 10.9% sequence divergence between the 2 lineage clades. In addition, Leucocytozoon sp. from Accipiter spp. from Europe group more closely with parasites found in Accipiter spp. from California than the same California Accipiter species do with their sympatric Buteo spp. Similarly, a Leucocytozoon haplotype from a Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) from Kazakhstan forms a monophyletic lineage with a parasite from B. jamaicensis from California. These results suggest that Leucocytozoon toddi is most likely a group of cryptic species, with 1 species infecting Buteo spp. and 1 or more species, or subspecies, infecting Accipiter spp.

You do not currently have access to this content.