The Avian Malaria Project
Pathogens can have dramatic effects on wildlife populations and human health, especially in areas that are further impacted by anthropogenic change. With increasing loss of biodiversity, infectious diseases appear to be emerging and reemerging at a faster rate. Research on the links between these two conditions can have an important impact on our view of biodiversity, the services provided by natural ecosystems, and how we manage them.
Researchers affiliated with the International Research and Training Center have focused on sampling Culicine mosquitoes in malaria-endemic areas of Cameroon and using multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques to provide information about the status of malarial infection and genetics of the host, vector, and parasite. Culicine mosquitoes are the primary vectors of malaria in tropical Africa and their abundance and attributes, such as feeding habits and host preference, vary greatly from one species to another. Their feeding habits constitute a significant aspect of their vectorial capacity.
Avian malaria has long been of interest as a model for the study of various aspects of human malaria. Its worldwide distribution and effective mode of parasite transmission through blood contact has attracted the attention of researchers investigating various aspects of the schizogonic stages of its life cycles in birds (the vertebrate host). The malaria parasite depends upon mosquitoes to transmit it from host to host (Fig. 1). Within the host, the parasite develops into two forms. One form reproduces asexually (schizogonic stage) within red blood cells, which then burst and release offspring to infect more blood cells. These rounds of reproduction provoke malaria’s characteristic fevers. The other form of the parasite reproduces sexually (sporogonic stage), does not cause symptoms, and is transmitted to mosquitoes. Much less attention has been paid to studying the sporogonic cycles in mosquitoes. In general, the spatial dynamics of the various mosquito species are poorly understood and there has been relatively little spatially-explicit research performed on them.
This research may prove critical for understanding the seasonal disease outbreaks that occur in some habitats as well as help in developing interdisciplinary tools and methods to forecast and mitigate risks to biodiversity and health.