A PCR test for avian malaria in Hawaiian birds

Mol Ecol. 1995 Dec;4(6):663-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294x.1995.tb00267.x.


The decline of native Hawaiian forest birds since European contact is attributed to factors ranging from habitat destruction to interactions with introduced species. Remaining populations of Hawaiian honeycreepers (Fringillidae: Drepanidinae) are most abundant and diverse in high elevation refuges above the normal range of disease-carrying mosquitoes. Challenge experiments suggest that honeycreepers are highly susceptible to avian malaria (Plasmodium sp.) but resistance exists in some species. In order to detect low levels of malarial infection and quantify prevalence of Plasmodium in high elevation natural populations of Hawaiian birds, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) based diagnostic test was developed that identifies rRNA genes of Plasmodium in avian blood samples. Quantitative competitive PCR (QC-PCR) experiments indicate that the detection limit of our test is an order of magnitude greater than that reported for human malaria DNA blot tests. Compared with standard histological methods, the PCR test detected a higher prevalence of diseased birds at mid-elevations. Malaria was detected in three species of native birds living in a high elevation wildlife refuge on the island of Hawaii and in four species from Maui. Our results show that avian malaria is more widespread in Hawaiian forests than previously thought, a finding that has important conservation implications for these threatened species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Birds / parasitology*
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • DNA, Protozoan / blood
  • DNA, Protozoan / genetics
  • Ecosystem
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Hawaii
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Avian / diagnosis*
  • Malaria, Avian / parasitology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Plasmodium / genetics*
  • Plasmodium / isolation & purification
  • Plasmodium gallinaceum / genetics
  • Plasmodium gallinaceum / isolation & purification
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / statistics & numerical data
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / veterinary*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Protozoan

Associated data

  • GENBANK/U31107
  • GENBANK/U31108