Implications of Plasmodium parasite infected mosquitoes on an insular avifauna: the case of Socorro Island, México



Avian malaria (Plasmodium spp.) has been implicated in the decline of avian populations in the Hawaiian Islands and it is generally agreed that geographically isolated and immunologically naïve bird populations are particularly vulnerable to the pathogenic effects of invasive malaria parasites. In order to assess the potential disease risk of malaria to the avifauna of Socorro Island, México, we surveyed for Plasmodium isolates from 1,300 resident field-caught mosquitoes. Most of them were identified as Aedes (Ochlerotatus) taeniorhynchus (Wiedemann, 1821), which were abundant in the salt marshes. We also collected Culex quinquefasciatus Say, 1823 close to human dwellings. Mitochondrial ND5 and COII gene sequences of Ae. taeniorhynchus were analyzed and compared to corresponding sequences of mosquitoes of the Galápagos Islands, Latin America, and the North American mainland. Aedes lineages from Socorro Island clustered most closely with a lineage from the continental U.S. Plasmodium spp. DNA was isolated from both species of mosquitoes. From 38 positive pools, we isolated 11 distinct mitochondrial Cytb lineages of Plasmodium spp. Seven of the Plasmodium lineages represent previously documented avian infective strains while four were new lineages. Our results confirm a potential risk for the spread of avian malaria and underscore the need to monitor both the mosquito and avian populations as a necessary conservation measure to protect endangered bird species on Socorro Island.