© Marcel Burkhardt
Emmenegger, T., S. Bauer, D. Dimitrov, J. Olano Marin, P. Zehtindjiev & S. Hahn (2018)
Host migration strategy and blood parasite infections of three sparrow species sympatrically breeding in Southeast Europe
bird migration, Haemoproteus, host-parasite interaction, Passer domesticus, Passer hispaniolensis, Passer montanus, Plasmodium
Mobile hosts like birds occupy a wide array of habitats in which they encounter various vector and parasite faunas. If the infection probability for vector-borne parasites varies among seasons and biomes, a migratory life can critically influence the infections of a host. The growing body of literature on avian blood parasites suggests that host migrations do not only influence prevalence of infection but can also evoke higher infection intensities and increased parasite diversity in migrant compared to resident host species.
We investigated the prevalence, intensity and diversity of Plasmodium and Haemoproteus infections in three closelyrelated and sympatrically breeding sparrow species with different migration strategies ranging from residential house sparrow and partially migratory tree sparrow to the obligate migratory Spanish sparrow. With a prevalence of 49%, the migratory Spanish sparrows were significantly less frequently infected than the resident house sparrows (82%). The partially migratory tree sparrow showed an intermediate prevalence of 60%. The parasitaemias were similar in all three host species and indicated mostly chronic but also few acute infections. While we found Plasmodium parasites in all three sparrow species, only Spanish sparrows were infected with Haemoproteus parasites in our study. With nine clearly identified parasite lineages in our study and the highest number of lineages per infected individuals (i.e. relative diversity), Spanish sparrows harboured the most diverse parasite fauna.
Our results suggest that migration strategies can affect Plasmodium and Haemoproteus infections of sparrows resulting in a lower parasite prevalence and higher parasite diversity in migratory hosts - at least during our host’s breeding period. A general scope for all annual cycle periods and across various bird taxa remains to be elucidated.