Haemosporidian parasite diversity and prevalence in the songbird genus Junco across Central and North America

Ester Martínez-Renau, Natalia Rojas-Estevez, Guillermo Friis, Julio C. Hernández-Montoya, Pablo Elizondo, Borja Mila

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The evolution of host-parasite interactions as host lineages colonize new geographic regions and diversify over evolutionary time is poorly understood. To assess whether haemosporidian parasite diversity has changed during the diversification of an avian host, we surveyed the diversity and prevalence of blood parasite lineages (genera Plasmodium, Haemoproteus, and Leucocytozoon) across the range of the songbird genus Junco, which has diversified recently as it recolonized North America following the last glacial maximum ∼18,000 years ago. We report the diversity and prevalence of parasites in junco taxa sampled from Costa Rica to Canada, and examine the influence of local avian species richness in the prevalence and diversity of parasites in junco samples. We screened for parasites in each individual by sequencing a fragment of their cytochrome b gene, identifying the different lineages, and quantifying the prevalence per junco taxon and locality. Of 304 juncos sampled, 178 tested positive for 1 or more parasite genera (58.5% overall prevalence). We found high parasite diversity in genera Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon and much lower diversity in Plasmodium. Among the 63 parasite lineages detected, 32 of which have not been previously described, we found generalist lineages with widespread but low prevalence in Junco, but also some that appear to have remained specialized on this genus as it diversified across North America over thousands of years. Our results suggest a range of parasitic strategies, ranging from specialized to generalist lineages within single parasite genera.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberukac022
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 7 2022


  • New World
  • haemosporidian parasites
  • songbirds
  • speciation
  • specificity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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