Patterns of Avian Haemosporidian Infections Vary with Time, but not Habitat, in a Fragmented Neotropical Landscape
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Habitat loss has the potential to alter vertebrate host populations and their interactions with parasites. Theory predicts a decrease in parasite diversity due to the loss of hosts in such contexts. However, habitat loss could also increase parasite infections as a result of the arrival of new parasites or by decreasing host immune defenses. We investigated the effect of habitat loss and other habitat characteristics on avian haemosporidian infections in a community of birds within a fragmented landscape in northwest Ecuador. We estimated Plasmodium and Haemoproteus parasite infections in 504 individual birds belonging to 8 families and 18 species. We found differences in infection status among bird species, but no relationship between forest fragment characteristics and infection status was observed. We also found a temporal effect, with birds at the end of the five-month study (which ran from the end of the rainy season thru the dry season), being less infected by Plasmodium parasites than individuals sampled at the beginning. Moreover, we found a positive relationship between forest area and Culicoides abundance. Taken as a whole, these findings indicate little effect of fragment characteristics per se on infection, although additional sampling or higher infection rates would have offered more power to detect potential relationships.