Research Summary

Altitudinal gradient in vector-mediated blood parasites across Western Himalayan birds

Birds do not leave their parasites behind when they migrate from their wintering to their breeding grounds and back. The role of migratory birds to spread diseases between regions has been widely documented; however, the extent to which the parasite diversity and transmission varies between migrant and non-migrant host species has not been adequately explored across an altitudinal gradient. Many migrants move between altitudes or to the plains, and thereby encounter diverse faunas of parasites compared to their non-migratory counterparts. In plains, the resident birds may act as reservoirs for blood parasites, increasing the risk of migrants to become infected with new parasites in wintering ground. Given that suitable vectors are present to transmit and maintain the infection, such migrants can form an effective bridge for parasites between wintering and breeding grounds. Hence, the risk of infection to naïve resident birds in high altitude is increased. The proposed research aims to explore the risk of malaria parasite infections in resident high altitude avifauna in the western Himalayas from their migrant counterparts and their interaction with mosquito fauna across an altitudinal gradient. 

Figure Legend: Chestnut-crowned laughingthrush (Trochalopteron erythrocephalum, family: Leiothrichidae) infected with newly described species of Haemoproteus leiothrichus parasite (purple dots) sampled in the eastern and western Himalayas in India.