Avian haemosporidian persistence and co-infection in great tits at the individual level
1 Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
2 , Museum of Zoology, CH-1014 Lausanne, Switzerland
Malaria Journal 2013, 12:40 doi:10.1186/1475-2875-12-40Published: 30 January 2013
Many studies have tracked the distribution and persistence of avian haemosporidian communities across space and time at the population level, but few studies have investigated these aspects of infection at the individual level over time. Important aspects of parasite infection at the individual level can be missed if only trends at the population level are studied. This study aimed to determine how persistent Haemosporida are in great tit individuals recaptured over several years, whether parasitaemia differed by parasite lineage (mitochondrial cytochrome b haplotype) and how co-infection (i.e. concurrent infection with multiple genera of parasites) affects parasitaemia and body mass.
Parasite prevalence was determined by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), quantitative PCR were used to assess parasitaemia and sequencing was employed to determine the identity of the lineages using the MalAvi database.
Haemosporidian prevalence was high over sampled years with 98% of 55 recaptured individuals showing infection in at least one year of capture. Eighty-two percent of all positive individuals suffered co-infection, with an overall haemosporidian lineage diversity of seventeen. Plasmodium and Haemoproteus parasites were found to be highly persistent, with lineages from these genera consistently found in individuals across years and with no differences in individual parasitaemia being recorded at subsequent captures. Conversely, Leucocytozoon parasites showed higher turnover with regard to lineage changes or transitions in infection status (infected vs non-infected) across years. Parasitaemia was found to be lineage specific and there was no relationship between Plasmodium parasitaemia or host body condition and the presence of Leucocytozoon parasites.
The findings of this study suggest that different genera of haemosporidian parasites interact differently with their host and other co-infecting parasites, influencing parasite persistence most likely through inter-parasite competition or host-parasite immune interactions. Even-though co-infections do not seem to result in increased virulence (higher parasitaemia or poorer host body condition), further investigation into infection potential of these parasites, both individually and as co-infections, is necessary.