Earth & Environment - Posted by Emily Walker-Monash on Thursday, July 19, 2012 11:46 - 0 Comments
Least picky parasites are most successful
MONASH U. (AUS) — Biologists have documented, for the first time, the traits that allow parasites to successfully invade new lands and species.
The most successful invaders were generalists—able to infect a broad range of host species and exist in a variety of geographical conditions in their native range. They were also found to be very common in hosts in their native range.
This combination of traits allowed parasites to hitch a ride with their hosts, survive the move within the host to the new land, spread to exotic species, and thrive in new conditions
In research published today in the journal Ecology Letters, scientists from Monash University, The Zoological Society of London, the University of Adelaide, and a number of universities in Europe, looked at thriving bird malaria parasites in New Zealand to determine their origins and the characteristics that led to their success.
Straight from the Source
Over three summers, the researchers collected small samples from various native and introduced birds across northern New Zealand and screened the DNA from each sample for avian malaria parasites. Further molecular detective work allowed the individual strains of avian malaria to be identified with certainty and compared to a global database of all known avian malaria parasites.
The study fills a gap in knowledge at a time when the spread of exotic species, including parasites, to new areas increasingly threatens biodiversity, says Rohan Clarke of Monash University’s School of Biological Sciences.
“There has been remarkably little research into avian malaria in Australia and New Zealand, yet these findings demonstrate the potential to provide insight into the spread and establishment of parasites that is of global significance.”
The results would be helpful in understanding how parasites spread, with often destructive consequences, says lead author John Ewen of the Zoological Society of London
“These findings will help us understand the what, when and how of exotic parasite introductions globally.”
New Zealand is an ideal location for the study because it has an extensive history of human facilitated bird introductions from Europe, Clarke says.
“By comparing parasite strains collected in New Zealand with those in the global database we were able, for the first time, to test hypotheses about both the origins and characteristics of successful invaders.”
More news from Monash University: http://www.monash.edu.au/