Differences in host species relationships and biogeographic influences produce contrasting patterns of prevalence, community composition and genetic structure in two genera of avian malaria parasites in southern Melanesia.J Anim Ecol. 2015 Jul; 84(4):985-98.JA
Host-parasite interactions have the potential to influence broadscale ecological and evolutionary processes, levels of endemism, divergence patterns and distributions in host populations. Understanding the mechanisms involved requires identification of the factors that shape parasite distribution and prevalence. A lack of comparative information on community-level host-parasite associations limits our understanding of the role of parasites in host population divergence processes. Avian malaria (haemosporidian) parasites in bird communities offer a tractable model system to examine the potential for pathogens to influence evolutionary processes in natural host populations. Using cytochrome b variation, we characterized phylogenetic diversity and prevalence of two genera of avian haemosporidian parasites, Plasmodium and Haemoproteus, and analysed biogeographic patterns of lineages across islands and avian hosts, in southern Melanesian bird communities to identify factors that explain patterns of infection. Plasmodium spp. displayed isolation-by-distance effects, a significant amount of genetic variation distributed among islands but insignificant amounts among host species and families, and strong local island effects with respect to prevalence. Haemoproteus spp. did not display isolation-by-distance patterns, showed marked structuring of genetic variation among avian host species and families, and significant host species prevalence patterns. These differences suggest that Plasmodium spp. infection patterns were shaped by geography and the abiotic environment, whereas Haemoproteus spp. infection patterns were shaped predominantly by host associations. Heterogeneity in the complement and prevalence of parasite lineages infecting local bird communities likely exposes host species to a mosaic of spatially divergent disease selection pressures across their naturally fragmented distributions in southern Melanesia. Host associations for Haemoproteus spp. indicate a capacity for the formation of locally co-adapted host-parasite relationships, a feature that may limit intraspecific gene flow or range expansions of closely related host species.