ACTIVE BLOOD PARASITE INFECTION IS NOT LIMITED TO THE BREEDING SEASON IN A DECLINING FARMLAND BIRD


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Abstract

abstract:Avian blood parasites can have significant impacts on adult breeding birds but studies of parasitism outside the breeding season are rare, despite their potentially important implications for host-parasite dynamics. Here we investigate temporal dynamics of blood parasite infection in adult yellowhammers Emberiza citrinella. We screened blood samples collected between December and April of 2 consecutive winters using PCR. We found a high prevalence of both Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon parasites, with a mean prevalence of 50% across 2 winters. Prevalence of both parasites was higher during the second, colder winter of the study. Temporal trends differed between the 2 genera, suggesting that chronic Haemoproteus infections gradually disappear throughout the winter but that Leucocytozoon infections exhibit a relapse during late winter, possibly coincident with reduced food availability. Our results highlight the difference in temporal dynamics between 2 blood parasite genera infecting the same host population and emphasize the need for accurate assessment of infection status at appropriate time periods when examining impacts of, and associations with, blood parasite infection. We suggest that further research should investigate the implications of over-winter infection for birds’ physiology, behavior, and survival.

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