Accelerated diversification of nonhuman primate malarias in Southeast Asia: adaptive radiation or geographic speciation?

Mol Biol Evol. 2015 Feb;32(2):422-39. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msu310. Epub 2014 Nov 10.


Although parasitic organisms are found worldwide, the relative importance of host specificity and geographic isolation for parasite speciation has been explored in only a few systems. Here, we study Plasmodium parasites known to infect Asian nonhuman primates, a monophyletic group that includes the lineage leading to the human parasite Plasmodium vivax and several species used as laboratory models in malaria research. We analyze the available data together with new samples from three sympatric primate species from Borneo: The Bornean orangutan and the long-tailed and the pig-tailed macaques. We find several species of malaria parasites, including three putatively new species in this biodiversity hotspot. Among those newly discovered lineages, we report two sympatric parasites in orangutans. We find no differences in the sets of malaria species infecting each macaque species indicating that these species show no host specificity. Finally, phylogenetic analysis of these data suggests that the malaria parasites infecting Southeast Asian macaques and their relatives are speciating three to four times more rapidly than those with other mammalian hosts such as lemurs and African apes. We estimate that these events took place in approximately a 3-4-Ma period. Based on the genetic and phenotypic diversity of the macaque malarias, we hypothesize that the diversification of this group of parasites has been facilitated by the diversity, geographic distributions, and demographic histories of their primate hosts.

Keywords: host range; macaques; malaria; orangutan; parasite speciation; phylogeny Plasmodium; population structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Macaca / parasitology
  • Malaria / parasitology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Plasmodium / classification
  • Plasmodium / genetics*
  • Plasmodium / parasitology
  • Plasmodium / pathogenicity*
  • Plasmodium vivax / classification
  • Plasmodium vivax / genetics
  • Plasmodium vivax / pathogenicity
  • Pongo
  • Primates / parasitology*