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Haemosporidian infections in skylarks (Alauda arvensis): a comparative PCR-based and microscopy study on the parasite diversity and prevalence in southern Italy and the Netherlands

  • Pavel Zehtindjiev
  • Asta Krizanauskiene
  • Sergio Scebba
  • Dimitar Dimitrov
  • Gediminas Valkiunas
  • Arne Hegemann
  • B. Irene Tieleman
  • Staffan Bensch
Publishing year: 2012
Language: English
Pages: 335-344
Publication/Series: European Journal of Wildlife Research
Volume: 58
Issue: 1
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Springer

Abstract english

Changes in agricultural management have been identified as the most probable cause for the decline of Skylark (Alauda arvensis) populations in Europe. However, parasitic infections have not been considered as a possible factor influencing this process. Four hundred and thirty-four Skylarks from the Southern Italy and the Netherlands were screened for haemosporidian parasites (Haemosporida) using the microscopy and polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based methods. The overall prevalence of infection was 19.5%; it was 41.8% in Italian birds and 8.3% in Dutch birds. The prevalence of Plasmodium spp. was 34.1% and 6.5% in Skylarks from Italy and Netherlands, respectively. Approximately 15% of all recorded haemosporidian infections were simultaneous infections both in Italian and Dutch populations. Six different mitochondrial cytochrome b (cyt b) lineages of Plasmodium spp. and three lineages of Haemoproteus tartakovskyi were found. The lineage SGS1 of Plasmodium relictum was the most prevalent at both study sites; it was recorded in 24.7% of birds in Italy and 5.5% in the Netherlands. The lineages SYAT05 of Plasmodium vaughani and GRW11 of P. relictum were also identified with a prevalence of <2% at both study sites. Two Plasmodium spp. lineages (SW2 and DELURB4) and three H. tartakovskyi lineages have been found only in Skylarks from Italy. Mitochondrial cyt b lineages SYAT05 are suggested for molecular identification of P. vaughani, a cosmopolitan malaria parasite of birds. This study reports the greatest overall prevalence of malaria infection in Skylarks during the last 100 years and shows that both Plasmodium and Haemoproteus spp. haemosporidian infections are expanding in Skylarks so it might contribute to a decrease of these bird populations in Europe.


  • Biological Sciences
  • Avian malaria
  • Haemoproteus
  • Plasmodium
  • Microscopy
  • PCR
  • Mitochondrial
  • DNA


  • Malaria in birds
  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 1612-4642