Climate change increases the risk of malaria in birds


László Z. Garamszegi, tel. +34 954 232 340, fax +34 954 621 125, e-mail:


Malaria caused by Plasmodium parasites is one of the worst scourges of mankind and threatens wild animal populations. Therefore, identifying mechanisms that mediate the spread of the disease is crucial for both human health and conservation. Human-induced climate change has been hypothesized to alter the geographic distribution of malaria pathogens. As the earth warms, arthropod vectors may display a general range expansion or may enjoy longer breeding season, both of which can enhance parasite transmission. Moreover, Plasmodium species may directly benefit for elevating temperatures, which provide stimulating conditions for parasite reproduction. To test for the link between climate change and malaria prevalence on a global scale for the first time, I used long-term records on avian malaria, which is a key model for studying the dynamics of naturally occurring malarial infections. Following the variation in parasite prevalence in more than 3000 bird species over seven decades, I show that the infection rate by Plasmodium is strongly associated with temperature anomalies and has been augmented with accelerating tendency during the last 20 years. The impact of climate change on malaria prevalence varies across continents, with the strongest effects found for Europe and Africa. Migration habit did not predict susceptibility to the escalating parasite pressure by Plasmodium. Consequently, wild birds are at an increasing risk of malaria infection due to recent climate change, which can endanger both naïve bird populations and domesticated animals. The prevailing avian example may provide useful lessons for understanding the effect of climate change on malaria in humans.