Bird hosts, blood parasites and their vectors — associations uncovered by molecular analyses of blackfly blood meals


O. Hellgren, Fax: +46 (0) 46-2224716; E-mail:


The level of host specificity of blood-sucking invertebrates may have both ecological and evolutionary implications for the parasites they are transmitting. We used blood meals from wild-caught blackflies for molecular identification of parasites and hosts to examine patterns of host specificity and how these may affect the transmission of avian blood parasites of the genus Leucocytozoon. We found that five different species of ornithophilic blackflies preferred different species of birds when taking their blood meals. Of the blackflies that contained avian blood meals, 62% were infected with Leucocytozoon parasites, consisting of 15 different parasite lineages. For the blackfly species, there was a significant association between the host width (measured as the genetic differentiation between the used hosts) and the genetic similarity of the parasites in their blood meals. The absence of similar parasite in blood meals from blackflies with different host preferences is interpreted as a result of the vector–host associations. The observed associations between blackfly species and host species are therefore likely to hinder parasites to be transmitted between different host-groups, resulting in ecologically driven associations between certain parasite lineages and hosts species.