15 (12 pages)
BACKGROUND: Montane birds which engage in elevational movements have evolved to cope with fluctuations in environmental hypoxia, through changes in physiological parameters associated with blood oxygen-carrying capacity such as haemoglobin concentration (Hb) and haematocrit (Hct). In particular, elevational migrants which winter at low elevations, encounter varying intensities of avian haemosporidian parasites as they traverse heterogeneous environments. Whilst high intensity parasite infections lead to anaemia, one can expect that the ability to cope with haemosporidian infections should be a key trait for elevational migrants that must be balanced against reducing the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood in response to high elevation. In this study, we explored the links between environmental hypoxia, migration, and disease ecology by examining natural variation in infections status and intensity of avian haemoporidians across a suite of Himalayan birds with different migratory strategies while controlling for host phylogeny.
RESULTS: We found predictably large variation in haemoglobin levels across the elevational gradient and this pattern was strongly influenced by season and whether birds are elevational migrants. The overall malaria infection intensity declined with elevation whereas Hb and Hct decreased with increase in parasite intensity, suggesting an important role of malaria parasites on hypoxia stressed birds in high elevation environments.
CONCLUSIONS: Our results provide a key insight into how physiological measures and sub-clinical infections might affect dynamics of high-elevation bird populations. We suggest a potential impact of avian elevational migration on disease dynamics and exposure to high intensity infections with disease spread in the face of climate change, which will exacerbate hypoxic stress and negative effects of chronic avian malaria infection on survival and reproductive success in wild birds. Future work on chronic parasite infections must consider parasite intensity, rather than relying on infection status alone.
Original Publication Citation
Ishtiaq, F., & Barve, S. (2018). Do avian blood parasites influence hypoxia physiology in a high elevation environment? BMC Ecology, 18(1), 15. doi:10.1186/s12898-018-0171-2
Ishtiaq, Farah and Barve, Sahas, "Do Avian Blood Parasites Influence Hypoxia Physiology in a High Elevation Environment?" (2018). Biological Sciences Faculty Publications. 269.