Journal of Tropical Ecology

Research Article

The prevalence of avian Plasmodium is higher in undisturbed tropical forests of Cameroon

Camille Bonneauda1 c1, Irem Sepila1 p1, Borja Miláa2 p2, Wolfgang Buermanna1, John Pollingera1, Ravinder N.M. Sehgala1a3, Gediminas Valkiūnasa4, Tatjana A. Iezhovaa4, Sassan Saatchia1a5 and Thomas B. Smitha1a2

a1 Center for Tropical Research, Institute of the Environment, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA

a2 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA

a3 Department of Biology, San Francisco State University, San Francisco CA USA

a4 Institute of Ecology, Vilnius University, Akademijos 2, LT-08412 Vilnius, Lithuania

a5 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 94132 USA


Habitat fragmentation and deforestation are thought to disrupt host–parasite interactions and increase the risk of epizootic outbreaks in wild vertebrates. A total of 220 individuals from three species of African rain-forest bird (Andropadus latirostris, Andropadus virens, Cyanomitra obscura), captured in two pristine and two agroforests in Cameroon, were screened for the presence of avian haemosporidian parasites (species of Plasmodium and Haemoproteus) to test whether habitat differences were associated with differences in the prevalence of infectious diseases in natural populations. Thirteen mitochondrial lineages, including 11 Plasmodium and two Haemoproteus lineages were identified. Whereas levels of Haemoproteus spp. infections were too low to permit analysis, the prevalence of infections with Plasmodium spp. reached significantly greater levels in undisturbed mature forests. Importantly however, the significant association between forest type and parasite prevalence was independent of host density effects, suggesting that the association did not reflect changes in host species composition and abundance between forest types. Our results illustrate how characterizing land-cover differences, and hence changes, may be a prerequisite to understanding and predicting patterns of parasite infections in natural populations of rain-forest birds.

(Accepted April 16 2009)


c1 Corresponding author. Current address: Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, USA. Email:

p1 Current address: Department of Zoology, The Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology, Oxford University, UK

p2 Current address: Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC, Madrid, Spain