Bird populations often have high prevalences of the haemosporidians Haemoproteus spp. and Plasmodium spp., but the extent of host sharing and host switching among these parasite lineages and their avian hosts is not well known. While sampling within a small geographic region in which host individuals are likely to have been exposed to the same potential parasite lineages, we surveyed highly variable mitochondrial DNA from haemosporidians isolated from 14 host taxa representing 4 avian families (Hirundinidae, Parulidae, Emberizidae, and Fringillidae). Analyses of cytochrome b sequences from 83 independent infections identified 29 unique haplotypes, representing 2 well-differentiated Haemoproteus spp. lineages and 6 differentiated Plasmodium spp. lineages. A phylogenetic reconstruction of relationships among these lineages provided evidence against host specificity at the species and family levels, as all haemosporidian lineages recovered from 2 or more host individuals (2 Haemoproteus and 3 Plasmodium lineages) were found in at least 2 host families. We detected a similar high level of host sharing; the 3 most intensively sampled host species each harbored 4 highly differentiated haemosporidian lineages. These results indicate that some Haemoproteus spp. and Plasmodium spp. lineages exhibit a low degree of host specificity, a phenomenon with implications for ecological and evolutionary interactions among these parasites and their hosts.
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