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Keywords:

  • avian malaria;
  • blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus;
  • Culicoides;
  • Haemoproteus;
  • host–parasite interactions

Abstract

The study of host–parasite relationships involving vector-borne parasites requires understanding interactions between parasites and vectors. The capacity of haemosporidians to infect insects has clear evolutionary consequences for the transmission of diseases. Here, we investigated (i) the associations between blood parasites, biting midges and birds and (ii) the potential specificity between biting midge and haemosporidian haplotypes. A total of 629 parous biting midges Culicoides and 224 wild birds (belonging to seven species) from a locality of central Spain were individually examined for the presence of Haemoproteus and Plasmodium parasites by sequencing a fragment of cytochrome B. Biting midges were identified morphologically and characterized on the basis of a fragment of the cytochrome c oxidase (COI) gene. Overall, 12 Haemoproteus and three Plasmodium haplotypes were isolated and sequenced. Among them, 10 haplotypes were exclusively isolated from biting midges, three haplotypes only from birds and two haplotypes from both biting midges and birds. Biting midge haplotypes showed both specific and generalist relationships with Haemoproteus haplotypes but only generalist relationships with Plasmodium haplotypes. Several C. festivipennis and C. kibunesis haplotypes established significant coevolutionary links with Haemoproteus haplotypes. These results shed light on the specificity of interactions between vectors and blood parasites.