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Introduction to life cycles, taxonomy, distribution and basic research techniques

October 20, 2020

Avian haemosporidian parasites are a closely related group of apicomplexan parasites with important similarities in their life cycles, development, physiology, and reproduction. Current phylogenies based on mitochondrial and nuclear genes reflect more traditional attempts to classify these organisms based on life history characteristics and morphology, but limited sampling from poorly characterized taxa such as the Garniidae from tropical and subtropical regions continues to limit our understanding of their phylogeny and evolution. Recent advances in molecular diagnostics and the ability to barcode these parasites using mitochondrial cytochrome b sequences have revolutionized the field, but traditional methodology based on microscopy of Giemsa-stained blood smears remains essential for diagnostics and understanding life history characteristics and biodiversity of these organisms. The relative strengths and weaknesses of current methods in wildlife haemosporidian research are discussed. We call for a combination of microscopic, PCR-based, and serological diagnostic methodologies for better estimates of true distribution and other aspects of biology of haemosporidians, particularly in studies on virulence, prevalence, and biodiversity.