Blood parasites have been studied intensely in many families of avian hosts, but corvids, a particularly cosmopolitan family, remain underexplored. Haemosporidian parasites of the common raven (Corvus corax) have not been studied, although it is the largest, most adaptable, and widespread corvid. Genetic sequence data from parasites of ravens can enhance the understanding of speciation patterns and specificity of haemosporidian parasites in corvids, and shed light how these hosts cope with parasite pressure.
A baited cage trap was used to catch 86 ravens and a nested PCR protocol was used to amplify a 479 bp fragment of the haemosporidian cytochrome b gene from the samples. The obtained sequences were compared with the MalAvi database of all published haemosporidian lineages and a phylogenetic tree including all detected raven parasites was constructed. An examination of blood smears was performed for assessment of infection intensity.
Twenty blood parasite lineages were recovered from ravens caught in a wild population in Bulgaria. The prevalence of generalist Plasmodium lineages was 49%, and the prevalence of Leucocytozoon lineages was 31%. Out of 13 detected Leucocytozoon lineages six were known from different corvids, while seven others seem to be specific to ravens. A phylogenetic reconstruction suggests that Leucocytozoon lineages of ravens and other corvids are not monophyletic, with some groups appearing closely related to parasites of other host families.
Several different, morphologically cryptic groups of Leucocytozoon parasites appear to infect corvids. Ravens harbour both generalist corvid Leucocytozoon as well as apparently species-specific lineages. The extraordinary breeding ecology and scavenging lifestyle possibly allow ravens to evade vectors and have relatively low blood parasite prevalence compared to other corvids.
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- Blood parasite infections in a wild population of ravens (Corvus corax) in Bulgaria
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