Morphologically defined subgenera of Plasmodium from avian hosts: test of monophyly by phylogenetic analysis of two mitochondrial genes

E. S. MARTINSEN a1c1, J. L. WAITE a1 and J. J. SCHALL a1
a1 Department of Biology, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont 05405, USA

Article author query
martinsen es   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
waite jl   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
schall jj   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Malaria parasites in the genus Plasmodium are now placed within 11 subgenera based on morphology under the light microscope, life-history traits, and host taxon. The phylogenetic significance of these characters, however, is problematic because the observed variation could be homoplasious. Using Plasmodium infections found in 2632 birds of many avian families collected in the USA, and several samples from other locations, we compared identifications to subgenus based on morphology in blood smears with a 2-gene molecular phylogeny (the first for avian Plasmodium) to determine if the 5 avian Plasmodium subgenera represent monophyletic groups. Phylogenetic trees recovered by parsimony, likelihood, and Bayesian methods presented nearly identical topologies. The analysis allowed testing the hypothesis of monophyly for the subgenera. Monophyly of the subgenera Haemamoeba, Huffia, and Bennettinia was supported by the analysis. The distinctive morphology of Haemamoeba species appears to have evolved once. Most samples identified to Novyella also fell within a monophyletic clade with the exception of 2 samples that fell basal to all other avian Plasmodium. Samples of the subgenus Giovannolaia did not form a monophyletic group. Thus, the characters used by parasitologists for over a century to define subgenera of Plasmodium vary in their phylogenetic significance.

(Received June 30 2006)
(Revised September 23 2006)
(Accepted October 2 2006)
(Published Online December 6 2006)

Key Words: Plasmodium; avian malaria parasites; cytochrome b; cytochrome oxidase I; subgenera; monophyly.

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