First Example of a Highly Prevalent but Low-Impact Malaria in an Endemic New Zealand Passerine

Rosemary K. Barraclough, Taneal M. Cope, Michael A. Peirce and Dianne H. Brunton

in Emerging Avian Disease

Published by University of California Press

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780520272378
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520952201 | DOI:
First Example of a Highly Prevalent but Low-Impact Malaria in an Endemic New Zealand Passerine

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Historical surveys for avian hemosporidian parasites in New Zealand have not revealed substantial prevalence within native birds. However, recent detections of avian malaria (Plasmodium spp.) within captive native species have been associated with the death of these birds. Such occurrences have highlighted concerns regarding the possibility of a malaria-associated epizootic event within the New Zealand avifauna similar to that witnessed within Hawaii's naïve native bird populations. In contrast to previous findings, we report the first instance of a high prevalence Plasmodium (50%, 39/78) within an endemic New Zealand honeyeater, the Bellbird (Anthornis melanura), on Tiritiri Matangi Island. Furthermore, since this prevalence was determined via microscopy, it is likely to be an underestimate of the true parasite prevalence within this population. This Bellbird population is productive and anecdotally among the densest within New Zealand. A small and newly establishing mainland Bellbird population, within 20 km of the Tiritiri population, also exhibited 23% (5/22) prevalence. Size and weight of infected and uninfected birds did not differ significantly. No other hematozoa were detected within sampled Bellbirds. This is the first recorded instance of a common, yet nonlethal, association between an endemic passerine and avian malaria.

Keywords: Anthornis melanura; avian malaria; Bellbird; New Zealand; Plasmodium

Chapter.  5565 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Vertebrates

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