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An experimental test of the physiological consequences of avian malaria infection.

J Anim Ecol; 2017 Sep 08.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-28884826


1.Chronic, low-intensity parasite infections can reduce host fitness through negative impacts on reproduction and survival, even if they produce few overt symptoms. As a result, these parasites can influence the evolution of host morphology, behavior, and physiology. The physiological consequences of chronic infection can provide insight into the processes underlying parasite-driven natural selection. 2.Here, we evaluate the physiological consequences of natural, low-intensity infection in an avian host-parasite system: adult male red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) infected with haemosporidian parasites. Chronic haemosporidian infection has previously been shown to reduce both reproductive success and survival in several avian species. 3.We used anti-malarial medications to experimentally reduce haemosporidian parasitemia (the proportion of blood cells infected with haemosporidian parasites) and measured the effect of treatment on body condition, hematology, immune function, physiological stress, and oxidative state. 4.Treatment with an anti-malarial medication reduced parasitemia for the most prevalent haemosporidian parasites from the genus Plasmodium. Treatment also increased hemoglobin and hematocrit, and decreased red blood cell production rates. We detected no effect of treatment on body condition, immune metrics, plasma corticosterone concentrations, total antioxidant capacity, or reactive oxygen metabolites. 5.Our results suggest that the damage and replacement of red blood cells during infection could be important costs of chronic haemosporidian infection. Strong links between parasitemia and the physiological consequences of infection indicate that even for relatively low intensity infections, measuring parasitemia rather than only presence/absence could be important when evaluating the role of infection in influencing hosts' behavior, physiology, or fitness. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.