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Geographical variation in blood parasites in feral pigeons: the role of vectors

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Prevalence and intensity of blood parasites are known to vary in space within a same species, yet the causes underlying such variation are poorly known. Theoretically, blood parasites variation can be attributed to differences to exposure to parasite vectors and/or to differences in host susceptibility. Here, we show that prevalence of Haemoproteus columbae in feral pigeons Columba livia varied among five near-by populations (range 15%–100%), paralleled by variation in the abundance of its main vector, the louse flies Pseudolynchia canariensis. Geographic variation in intensity of blood parasites did not covary with abundance of vectors. Within populations, older individuals had a higher probability of being parasitized than younger ones, whereas younger birds, when infected, suffered higher intensities. Furthermore, we found no evidence of sex-related differences neither in prevalence nor in intensity of blood parasite infections. To demonstrate that geographical variation in prevalence was actually due to differences in vector exposure, we conducted two experiments based on translocation of unparasitized pigeons from a vector-free area to an area where both the parasite and vector were abundant. With the first experiment, we demonstrated that unparasitized pigeons were not resistant to the parasite because when transmission was possible pigeons became parasitized in a few months. With the second experiment, in which half of the pigeons were prevented from contacts with the vector, we ruled out the posibility that pigeons we considered as unparasitized would have suffered from latent infections. Therefore, both observational and experimental evidence supports the view that vector abundance is the major factor influencing the spatial variation in prevalence of H. columbae in pigeons.
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Document Type: Original Article

Publication date: June 1, 2000

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