Oceanic archipelagos are vulnerable to natural introduction of parasites via migratory birds. Our aim was to characterize the geographic origins of two Plasmodium parasite lineages detected in the Galapagos Islands and in North American breeding bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) that regularly stop in Galapagos during migration to their South American overwintering sites. We used samples from a grassland breeding bird assemblage in Nebraska, United States, and parasite DNA sequences from the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, to compare to global data in a DNA sequence registry. Homologous DNA sequences from parasites detected in bobolinks and more sedentary birds (e.g., brown-headed cowbirds Molothrus ater, and other co-occurring bird species resident on the North American breeding grounds) were compared to those recovered in previous studies from global sites. One parasite lineage that matched between Galapagos birds and the migratory bobolink, Plasmodium lineage B, was the most common lineage detected in the global MalAvi database, matching 49 sequences from unique host/site combinations, 41 of which were of South American origin. We did not detect lineage B in brown-headed cowbirds. The other Galapagos-bobolink match, Plasmodium lineage C, was identical to two other sequences from birds sampled in California. We detected a close variant of lineage C in brown-headed cowbirds. Taken together, this pattern suggests that bobolinks became infected with lineage B on the South American end of their migratory range, and with lineage C on the North American breeding grounds. Overall, we detected more parasite lineages in bobolinks than in cowbirds. Galapagos Plasmodium had similar host breadth compared to the non-Galapagos haemosporidian lineages detected in bobolinks, brown-headed cowbirds, and other grassland species. This study highlights the utility of global haemosporidian data in the context of migratory bird–parasite connectivity. It is possible that migratory bobolinks bring parasites to the Galapagos and that these parasites originate from different biogeographic regions representing both their breeding and overwintering sites.
Levin, Iris I.; Colborn, Rachel E.; Kim, Daniel; Perlut, Noah G.; Renfrew, Rosalind B.; and Parker, Patricia G., "Local Parasite Lineage Sharing In Temperate Grassland Birds Provides Clues About Potential Origins Of Galapagos Avian Plasmodium" (2016). Environmental Studies Faculty Publications. 12.