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Genetic sequence data reveals widespread sharing of Leucocytozoon lineages in corvids


Leucocytozoon, a widespread hemosporidian blood parasite that infects a broad group of avian families, has been studied in corvids (family: Corvidae) for over a century. Current taxonomic classification indicates that Leucocytozoon sakharoffi infects crows and related Corvus spp., while Leucocytozoon berestneffi infects magpies (Pica spp.) and blue jays (Cyanocitta sp.). This intrafamily host specificity was based on the experimental transmissibility of the parasites, as well as slight differences in their morphology and life cycle development. Genetic sequence data from Leucocytozoon spp. infecting corvids is scarce, and until the present study, sequence data has not been analyzed to confirm the current taxonomic distinctions. Here, we predict the phylogenetic relationships of Leucocytozoon cytochrome b lineages recovered from infected American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), yellow-billed magpies (Pica nuttalli), and Steller’s jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) to explore the host specificity pattern of L. sakharoffi and L. berestneffi. Phylogenetic reconstruction revealed a single large clade containing nearly every lineage recovered from the three host species, while showing no evidence of the expected distinction between L. sakharoffi and L. berestneffi. In addition, five of the detected lineages were recovered from both crows and magpies. This absence of the previously described host specificity in corvid Leucocytozoon spp. suggests that L. sakharoffi and L. berestneffi be reexamined from a taxonomic perspective.

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Correspondence to Dave Freund.

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Freund, D., Wheeler, S.S., Townsend, A.K. et al. Genetic sequence data reveals widespread sharing of Leucocytozoon lineages in corvids. Parasitol Res 115, 3557–3565 (2016).

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  • Hemosporidian parasite
  • Leucocytozoon
  • Host specificity
  • Corvid