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Avian malaria Plasmodium relictum in native Hawaiian forest birds: epizootiology and demographic impacts on ‵apapane Himatione sanguinea


  • Carter T. Atkinson,

  • Michael D. Samuel

C. T. Atkinson (, U.S. Geol. Surv., Pacific Island Ecosyst. Res. Centre, Hawai‵i Nat. Park, Hawai‵i 96718, USA. – M. D. Samuel, U.S. Geol. Surv., Wisconsin Cooperative Wildlife Res. Unit, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


The role of introduced avian malaria Plasmodium relictum in the decline and extinction of native Hawaiian forest birds has become a classic example of the potential effect of invasive diseases on biological diversity of naïve populations. However, empirical evidence describing the impact of avian malaria on fitness of Hawai‵i's endemic forest birds is limited, making it difficult to determine the importance of disease among the suite of potential limiting factors affecting the distribution and abundance of this threatened avifauna. We combined epidemiological force-of-infection with multistate capture––recapture models to evaluate a 7-year longitudinal study of avian malaria in ‵apapane, a relatively common native honeycreeper within mid-elevation Hawaiian forests. We found that malaria transmission was seasonal in this mid-elevation forest; transmission peaked during fall and during some years produced epizootic mortality events. Estimated annual mortality of hatch-year birds typically exceeded 50% and mortality of adults exceeded 25% during epizootics. The substantial impact of avian malaria on this relatively common native species demonstrates the key role this disease has played in the decline and extinction of Hawaiian forest birds.