Host specialization and geographic localization of avian malaria parasites: a regional analysis in the Lesser Antilles.Am Nat. 2005 Apr; 165(4):466-80.AN
We recovered 26 genetically distinct avian malaria parasite lineages, based on cytochrome b sequences, from a broad survey of terrestrial avifauna of the Lesser Antilles. Here we describe their distributions across host species within a regional biogeographic context. Most parasite lineages were recovered from a few closely related host species. Specialization on one host species and distribution across many hosts were both rare. Geographic patterns of parasite lineages indicated limited dispersal and frequent local extinction. The central islands of the archipelago share similar parasite lineages and patterns of infection. However, the peripheral islands harbor well-differentiated parasite communities, indicating long periods of isolation. Nonetheless, 20 of 26 parasite lineages were recovered from at least one of three other geographic regions, the Greater Antilles, North America, and South America, suggesting rapid dispersal relative to rate of differentiation. Six parasite lineages were restricted to the Lesser Antilles, primarily to endemic host species. Host differences between populations of the same parasite lineage suggest that host preference may evolve more rapidly than mitochondrial gene sequences. Taken together, distributions of avian malarial parasites reveal evidence of coevolution, host switching, extinction, and periodic recolonization events resulting in ecologically dynamic as well as evolutionarily stable patterns of infection.