Prevalence of Avian Malaria in American Kestrels Throughout the Breeding Season
Birds typically exhibit their highest prevalence of blood parasites during migration and reproduction because both are high energy-demanding periods, when limited energy reserves are preferentially shunted away from the immune system to support these movement and breeding activities, respectively. These negative effects of elevated parasite loads on reproducing females can reduce clutch size, hatch rate, and fledgling success. Avian malaria is a vector-borne parasite that infects the red blood cells of birds. The vectors, which include mosquitoes, are not active during low temperatures, and therefore may not be present during the earliest part of the breeding season when temperatures are at their lowest. The purpose of this study is to examine the prevalence of avian malaria in American Kestrels (Falco sparverius) through the course of the breeding season. I hypothesize that the infection rate of American Kestrels will increase throughout the breeding season due to the increase in vector activity as daily temperatures rise. If the infection rate increases over time, then early nesters could have greater reproductive success due to fewer burdens of parasitism by malaria. During the 2011 breeding season (March – July), blood samples were collected from families of adults and nestlings. DNA was extracted from samples and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used to detect parasite prevalence in individuals. Reproduction timing from early, middle and late seasons will be compared for prevalence of malaria. Variation among the nest box sites and time reproduction date is shown and discussed. Additional research will improve these findings and refine our understanding of the relationships between fledging success and the presence of avian malaria in parents and nestlings.