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Vector movement underlies avian malaria at upper elevation in Hawaii: implications for transmission of human malaria


With climate warming, malaria in humans and birds at upper elevations is an emerging infectious disease because development of the parasite in the mosquito vector and vector life history are both temperature dependent. An enhanced-mosquito-movement model from climate warming predicts increased transmission of malaria at upper elevation sites that are too cool for parasite development in the mosquito vector. We evaluate this model with avian malaria (Plasmodium relictum) at 1,900-m elevation on the Island of Hawaii, with air temperatures too low for sporogony in the vector (Culex quinquefasciatus). On a well-defined site over a 14-year period, 10 of 14 species of native and introduced birds became infected, several epizootics occurred, and the increase in prevalence was driven more by resident species than by mobile species that could have acquired their infections at lower elevations. Greater movement of infectious mosquitoes from lower elevations now permits avian malaria to spread at 1,900 m in Hawaii, in advance of climate warming at that elevation. The increase in malaria at upper elevations due to dispersal of infectious mosquitoes is a real alternative to temperature for the increased incidence of human malaria in tropical highlands.

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We appreciate funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (World Environment and Resources Program, 8900287) and the National Center for Environmental Research (Science to Achieve Results, Environmental Protection Agency, R82-9093), and support from the Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant DB451402 (H. McCallum, principal investigator). We thank many students and interns for assistance in obtaining blood samples, in particular Joby Rohwer and Matt Burt for the Kalij pheasant samples. We also thank Dennis Higashiguchi and Mayee Wong for extracting DNA from the blood and Mayee Wong, Dawn Reding, and Kira Krend for assistance in diagnosing the DNA for the presence of malaria. Constructive comments were offered by F. Reed and K. Krend.

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Correspondence to Leonard A. Freed.

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Freed, L.A., Cann, R.L. Vector movement underlies avian malaria at upper elevation in Hawaii: implications for transmission of human malaria. Parasitol Res 112, 3887–3895 (2013).

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  • Malaria
  • Climate Warming
  • Resident Species
  • Mobile Species
  • Young Bird