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Environmental factors strongly influence the ecology and evolution of vector‐borne infectious diseases. However, our understanding of the influence of climatic variation on host–parasite interactions in tropical systems is rudimentary. We studied five species of birds and their haemosporidian parasites (Plasmodium and Haemoproteus) at 16 sampling sites to understand how environmental heterogeneity influences patterns of parasite prevalence, distribution, and diversity across a marked gradient in water availability in northern South America. We used molecular methods to screen for parasite infections and to identify parasite lineages. To characterize spatial heterogeneity in water availability, we used weather‐station and remotely sensed climate data. We estimated parasite prevalence while accounting for spatial autocorrelation, and used a model selection approach to determine the effect of variables related to water availability and host species on prevalence. The prevalence, distribution, and lineage diversity of haemosporidian parasites varied among localities and host species, but we found no support for the hypothesis that the prevalence and diversity of parasites increase with increasing water availability. Host species and host × climate interactions had stronger effects on infection prevalence, and parasite lineages were strongly associated with particular host species. Because climatic variables had little effect on the overall prevalence and lineage diversity of haemosporidian parasites across study sites, our results suggest that independent host–parasite dynamics may influence patterns in parasitism in environmentally heterogeneous landscapes.

Publication Date

March 2018

Publication Title

Ecology and Evolution

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