Background: Until 2009, the Laverania subgenus counted only two representatives: Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium reichenowi. The recent development of non-invasive methods allowed re-exploration of plasmodial diversity in African apes. Although a large number of great ape populations have now been studied regarding Plasmodium infections in Africa, there are still vast areas of their distribution that remained unexplored. Gabon constitutes an important part of the range of western central African great ape subspecies (Pan troglodytes troglodytes and Gorilla gorilla gorilla), but has not been studied so far. In the present study, the diversity of Plasmodium species circulating in great apes in Gabon was analysed.
Methods: The analysis of 1,261 faecal samples from 791 chimpanzees and 470 gorillas collected from 24 sites all over Gabon was performed. Plasmodium infections were characterized by amplification and sequencing of a portion of the Plasmodium cytochrome b gene.
Results: The analysis of the 1,261 samples revealed that at least six Plasmodium species circulate in great apes in Gabon (Plasmodium praefalciparum, Plasmodium gorA (syn Plasmodium adleri), Plasmodium gorB (syn Plasmodium blacklocki) in gorillas and Plasmodium gaboni, P. reichenowi and Plasmodium billcollinsi in chimpanzees). No new phylogenetic lineages were discovered. The average infection rate was 21.3% for gorillas and 15.4% for chimpanzees. A logistic regression showed that the probability of infection was significantly dependent on the freshness of the droppings but not of the host species or of the average pluviometry of the months of collection.