Presentation Title

First record of malaria parasites in the Saltmarsh Sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus) and patterns of infection with mercury exposure

Abstract

Wildlife species face several challenges, including habitat destruction, environmental degradation, pathogens, and climate change. These factors are not independent and may escalate to cause species declines. Avian malaria parasites, protist parasites of the genus Plasmodium, are extremely common in birds worldwide and have the ability to dramatically impact sensitive populations. Mercury as a heavy metal and common environmental pollutant accumulates in the tissues of birds and has been found to reduce immune system function, and thus could increase the prevalence and pathology caused by malaria parasites. For the first time I will survey the endangered Saltmarsh Sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus) for malaria parasites and explore the interaction between mercury exposure and malaria parasite infection in an avian species. I will also determine if the parasites of the Saltmarsh Sparrows are known or novel parasite lineages and the degree to which they are shared with other avian species. Blood samples were collected from over 250 individuals in Maine, Massachuetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New York by collaborators at the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) and the University of New Hampshire. By sensitive PCR I will screen these samples for malaria parasite infection. The results will allow me to investigate the relationship between mercury levels and the presence of malaria parasite infections as well as the diversity and distribution of malaria parasites in the species. The outcomes of this study will provide critical information on the species and inform future studies and conservation decisions affecting vulnerable and declining songbird species exposed to mercury and malaria parasites.

Primary Faculty Mentor Name

Ellen Martinsen

Secondary Mentor Name

Joseph Schall

Faculty/Staff Collaborators

Ellen Martinsen, Adrienne Kovach, Oksana Lane, Michelle Kneeland

Status

Undergraduate

Student College

College of Arts and Sciences

Program/Major

Biological Science

Primary Research Category

Biological Sciences

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First record of malaria parasites in the Saltmarsh Sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus) and patterns of infection with mercury exposure

Wildlife species face several challenges, including habitat destruction, environmental degradation, pathogens, and climate change. These factors are not independent and may escalate to cause species declines. Avian malaria parasites, protist parasites of the genus Plasmodium, are extremely common in birds worldwide and have the ability to dramatically impact sensitive populations. Mercury as a heavy metal and common environmental pollutant accumulates in the tissues of birds and has been found to reduce immune system function, and thus could increase the prevalence and pathology caused by malaria parasites. For the first time I will survey the endangered Saltmarsh Sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus) for malaria parasites and explore the interaction between mercury exposure and malaria parasite infection in an avian species. I will also determine if the parasites of the Saltmarsh Sparrows are known or novel parasite lineages and the degree to which they are shared with other avian species. Blood samples were collected from over 250 individuals in Maine, Massachuetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New York by collaborators at the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) and the University of New Hampshire. By sensitive PCR I will screen these samples for malaria parasite infection. The results will allow me to investigate the relationship between mercury levels and the presence of malaria parasite infections as well as the diversity and distribution of malaria parasites in the species. The outcomes of this study will provide critical information on the species and inform future studies and conservation decisions affecting vulnerable and declining songbird species exposed to mercury and malaria parasites.