HAEMOSPORIDIAN BLOOD PARASITES IN EUROPEAN BIRDS OF PREY AND OWLS

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Abstract

Avian blood parasites have been intensively studied using morphological methods with limited information on their host specificity and species taxonomic status. Now the analysis of gene sequences, especially the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene of the avian haemosporidian species of Haemoproteus, Plasmodium, and Leucocytozoon, offers a new tool to review the parasite specificity and status. By comparing morphological and genetic techniques, we observed nearly the same overall prevalence of haemosporidian parasites by microscopy (19.8%) and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) (21.8%) analyses. However, in contrast to the single valid Leucocytozoon species (L. toddi) in the Falconiformes we detected 4 clearly distinctive strains by PCR screening. In the Strigiformes, where the only valid Leucocytozoon species is L. danilewskyi, we detected 3 genetically different strains of Leucocytozoon spp. Two strains of Haemoproteus spp. were detected in the birds of prey and owls examined, whereas the strain found in the tawny owl belonged to the morphospecies Haemoproteus noctuae. Three Plasmodium spp. strains that had already been found in Passeriformes were also detected in the birds of prey and owls examined here, supporting previous findings indicating a broad and nonspecific host spectrum bridging different bird orders.

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