Publisher: Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and Blackwell Publishing Ltd
We compared the haemosporidian parasite faunas (Plasmodium and Haemoproteus) of small land birds on the islands of St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada in the southern Lesser Antilles. The islands differ in distance from the South American source of colonists, proximity to each other, and similarity of their avifaunas. On each island, we obtained 419–572 blood samples from 22–25 of the 34–41 resident species. We detected parasite infection by PCR and identified parasite lineages by sequencing a portion of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene. Parasite prevalence varied from 31% on St Lucia to 22% on St Vincent and 18% on Grenada. Abundant parasite lineages differed between the three islands in spite of the similarity in host species. As in other studies, the geographic distributions of the individual parasite lineages varied widely between local endemism and broad distribution within the West Indies, including cases of long-distance disjunction. St Vincent was unusual in the near absence of Plasmodium parasites, which accorded with low numbers of suitable mosquito vectors reported from the island. Parasites on St Vincent also tended to be host specialists compared to those on St Lucia and Grenada. Similarity in parasite assemblages among the three islands varied in parallel with host assemblage similarity (but not similarity of infected hosts) and with geographic proximity. Parasite prevalence increased with host abundance on both St Lucia and St Vincent, but not on Grenada; prevalence did not vary between endemic and more widespread host species. In addition, the endemic host species harbored parasites that were recovered from a variety of non-endemic species as well. These results support the individualistic nature of haemosporidian parasite assemblages in evolutionarily independent host populations.