Prevalence and Diversity of Avian Haemosporidian Parasites in Mixed-Species Flocking Birds of Peru

Author: Aileen Lopez

Faculty Supervisor: Ravinder Sehgal

Department: Biology

Haemosporida is an order of single-celled apicomplexan parasites that infect vertebrate hosts with high prevalence and morbidity. Avian haemosporidian parasites are known to cause mild to severe symptoms in their avian hosts with severe cases ultimately leading to death. Previous studies have shown that there are many evolutionary, ecological, and even anthropogenic factors that can influence parasite infections in birds. However, there is no one study that provides an absolute determinant or predictor for avian haemosporidian parasite infections, so we must continue to study the various factors that might influence haemosporidian infection in avian hosts. Peru, which is home to over a hundred endemic bird species, remains an understudied region for avian haemosporidian parasites. In this study, we use microscopy and molecular techniques, PCR-based detection, to screen for haemosporidian parasites in avian hosts found in Cordillera del Pantiacolla Peru. We will be using parasite presence along with the flocking data previously collected in the field to determine if there is any relationship between parasite infection and mixed species flocking or if parasite infection is host specific, independent of flocking. Based on our preliminary data, we predict that parasite infection will be host specific, independent of mixed species flocking. This project is significant because it will allow us to identify which parasite lineages are found in this area and the relationship between mixed species flocking and parasite infection, if any.