Post 6

What was that all about? 

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a six-part series

Here are 5 things to help you make sense of it all. Who wouldn’t want that? 

1.Birds suffer from their own version of malaria and it is spread around the world.

2.Since the accidental introduction of the common house mosquito in Hawaii (1826), many native bird populations have become threatened to extinction by avian malaria caused by P. relictum. The rapid loss of native island floras and faunas is a huge cause for concern among scientists.

3.We expect avian populations worldwide to be under increasing threat from this disease due to climate change, particularly in tropical areas.

4.Warmer temperatures have forced honeycreepers to breed in higher elevations where food and cover may be scarce.

5. It is quite likely that threatened bird species will be “squeezed between expanding disease transmission from lower elevations and the upper limits of suitable forest habitat“ due to predicted rises in global temperature over the next century. Pete Marra, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Migratory Bird Center, warns that “we have five, 10, maybe 15 years before we start seeing more declines…but some of these species don’t have that much time and I don’t want to see another species become extinct in my lifetime”.

And this begins to explain part of the conversation I had this week with Ben Roberts at Tree Ramblings, a young ecologist at the University of Aberystwyth who has studied avian ecology and climate change. I asked him whether the recent success story of human malaria was a sign of good things to come. With humans, it’s easy to get funding for research. But birds are far more difficult. Many birds are very important ecologically, Roberts notes, they obviously are often important predators in ecosystems, as well as pollinator species. White-backed vultures (Gyps bengalensis) are a very good example of this role. Then to understand why malaria impacts islands such as Hawaii and New Zealand in particular, Roberts took an ecological approach. He emphasized that there are several common drivers of transmission which determines how a landscape will facilitate transmission of disease. Then he identified which human activities and alterations of the environment can significantly influence transmission.

Below is a short 4 minute podcast I conducted with Ben Roberts [8th December 2014]. I wish to thank Ben Roberts whose effort and time made this post possible.

Useful references

Atkinson, C.T. et al. (2000). Pathogenicity of Avian Malaria in Experimentally-infected Hawaii Amakihi. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 36 (2), 197-204.

LaPointe, D.A. et al. (2012). Ecology and Conservation Biology of Avian Malaria. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci., 1249: 211-226.

Beadell, J.S. et al. (2006). Global phylogeographic limits of Hawaii’s avian malaria. Proc. R. Soc. B., 273:2935-2944.

Freed, L.A. et al. (2005). Increase in Avian Malaria at Upper Elevation in Hawai’i. The Condor, 107: 753-764.

Louiseau, C. et al. (2007). Predictions of avian Plasmodium expansion under climate change. Scientific reports, 2: 1126.

Merry Christmas!

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