Washington: Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have for the time documented the characteristics of invading parasites, using malaria in New Zealand bird species.The study identifies the factors influencing the success of parasites unintentionally introduced to new environments.Avian malaria is a disease caused by species of parasites, of the genus Plasmodium, which infects birds. Just like human malaria, it is spread by mosquitoes, and the parasites spend part of their lives in red blood cells of birds.Avian malaria is common in continental areas, but is often absent from isolated islands where mosquitoes are less prevalent.More than 800 exotic and native host birds were studied in a range of areas across Northern New Zealand. They detected parasite infection by extracting DNA from blood and analysing it to look at specific segments of genes. They then looked in more detail at the characteristics of the parasites they found to see if they had features that made them more likely to be present in bird hosts in New Zealand.“We have found a surprisingly high diversity of malaria parasites in New Zealand, including two found nowhere else in the world. However, most parasites we found are recent arrivals, probably from infected birds released by humans,” said ZSL’s Dr John Ewen, who is from New Zealand himself.
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