An Australo-papuan avian community in Torres Strait (QLD, Australia) is being investigated for detectable effects and responses to natural exposure of a high diversity and prevalence of avian haemosporida (avian malaria). At present there is a poor understanding of the effects these parasites impose on Australo-papuan avian communities and investigations from this region currently contribute very little to the general understanding of avian haemosporida. Numerous studies elsewhere have revealed a variety of species-specific responses to these parasites ranging from undetectable to highly undesirable including population declines and species extinctions.
Studying interactions between haemosporida and Australo-papuan avifauna provides a unique perspective on the dynamics of these parasites with direct relevance to Australian avifaunal communities. Detectable effects in avian hosts are expected to vary with lineage of parasite, determined by cytochrome b gene sequencing, as well as between avian host species. Thus a broad range of effects are necessarily addressed. Birds are all caught and sampled from a single island community. For each individual morphometric data are collected and used to determine effects in conjunction with blood analyses such as blood cell counts and biochemical tests of organ function. Data collected over a period of eight years are included. The role of tolerant avian host species as reservoirs in this community is also investigated, determining the effect these host species have on parasite diversity within the community.
The uniqueness of the Austalo-papuan region and its avifauna necessitate local investigations of avian parasites. An Australo-papuan perspective adds greatly to the understanding of host-parasite dynamics and interactions in this region as well as contributes to the broader understanding of these globally present haemosporida.