Prevalence and genetic diversity of avian haemosporidian parasites in islands within a mega hydroelectric dam in the Brazilian Amazon

Parasitol Res. 2023 Sep;122(9):2065-2077. doi: 10.1007/s00436-023-07906-3. Epub 2023 Jul 1.


The Brazilian Amazon supports an extremely diverse avifauna and serves as the diversification center for avian malaria parasites in South America. Construction of hydroelectric dams can drive biodiversity loss by creating islands incapable of sustaining the bird communities found in intact forest sites. Besides anthropogenic actions, the presence of parasites can also influence the dynamics and structure of bird communities. Avian malaria (Plasmodium) and related haemosporidian parasites (Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon) are a globally distributed group of protozoan parasites recovered from all major bird groups. However, no study to date has analyzed the presence of avian haemosporidian parasites in fragmented areas such as land bridge islands formed during artificial flooding following the construction of hydroelectric dams. The aim of this study is to assess the prevalence and molecular diversity of haemosporidians in bird communities inhabiting artificial islands in the area of the Balbina Hydroelectric Dam. The reservoir area covers 443,700 ha with 3546 islands on the left bank of the Uatumã River known to contain more than 400 bird species. We surveyed haemosporidian infections in blood samples collected from 445 understory birds, belonging to 53 species, 24 families, and 8 orders. Passeriformes represented 95.5% of all analyzed samples. We found a low overall Plasmodium prevalence (2.9%), with 13 positive samples (two Plasmodium elongatum and 11 Plasmodium sp.) belonging to eight lineages. Six of these lineages were previously recorded in the Amazon, whereas two of them are new. Hypocnemis cantator, the Guianan Warbling Antbird, represented 38.5% of all infected individuals, even though it represents only 5.6% of the sampled individuals. Since comparison with Plasmodium prevalence data prior to construction of Balbina is not possible, other studies in artificially flooded areas are imperative to test if anthropogenic flooding may disrupt vector-parasite relationships leading to low Plasmodium prevalence.

Keywords: Artificial islands; Avian malaria; Parasite diversity; Phylogenetic diversity; Plasmodium.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bird Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Bird Diseases* / parasitology
  • Brazil / epidemiology
  • Genetic Variation
  • Haemosporida* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Islands
  • Malaria, Avian* / parasitology
  • Parasites* / genetics
  • Passeriformes*
  • Plasmodium* / genetics
  • Prevalence