Ecology and Evolution of avian malaria parasites: a model for host-parasite interactions

@ATREE auditorium at 3:45 p.m. on Monday, 25th August, 2014

Avian malaria (Plasmodium) and related haemosporidians (Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon) show the highest species diversity across avian hosts. Recent advances in molecular techniques using cytochrome b gene of malaria parasites have revealed an astonishing diversity much higher than previously estimated from morphological methods. Vector-mediated parasites in the genera Plasmodium and Haemoproteus, represent a complex, spatially heterogeneous host-parasite system having ecological and evolutionary impacts on host populations. At one extreme, malaria parasites have been implicated in the extinction or decline of several species of birds in Hawaii. Additional studies of the interactions between blood parasites, mate choice, reproductive success, and immune response indicate that malaria may be a significant selective factor in bird populations. Since parasite abundance depends on both the presence of an appropriate host and as well as a competent vector, this multi-tiered system provides an interesting parasite model for examining ‘species’ diversity and distribution, temporal and spatial variations, species turnover reflecting on host populations and evolutionary dynamics of host-parasite interactions. In this talk I will provide an in depth overview on studies using avian malaria parasites and their use as an excellent model system to investigate host-parasite associations, geographic patterns and climate change.

About Farah Ishtiaq
Farah's research interests lie in the study of conservation biology, evolutionary ecology and host-parasite interactions in vector-borne diseases.

She studied Zoology and PhD in Wildlife Science at Aligarh Muslim University, India (1994-1998), then worked with Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai as a research scientist on critically endangered Forest Spotted Owlet (Heteroglaux blewitti) and continued as National Coordinator for Important Bird Areas programme and Indian Bird Conservation Network (1998-2002). She moved to Genetics Programme in Smithsonian Institution as postdoctoral researcher to study evolutionary genetics of avian malaria in introduced birds to Hawaii (2002-2005). As she is interested in island biogeography and host-parasite systems, she joined Edward Grey Institute, University of Oxford (2005-2008) as postdoctoral researcher and have been awarded an International Incoming Marie Curie Fellowship from European Commission to explore avian malaria parasites and colonization in Melanesian Islands. As part of the same fellowship, she conducted a pilot study in the Indian western Himalayas to explore the altitudinal and seasonal variations in malarial parasites across migrant and resident species and how it relates to mosquito species distributions. Subsequently, She worked in Wildlife Conservation Society as a postdoctoral research associate in Global Health Programme to explore ecological patterns in avian influenza outbreaks in SE Asia and Mongolia. Recently, she has been awarded Wellcome Trust DBT India Alliance Intermediate Fellowship to resume avian malaria research in western Himalayas.