Host Specialization and Dispersal in Avian Haemosporidians

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In order to be able to understand the ecological and evolutionary processes involved in the emergence of infectious diseases, one needs to comprehend how parasites arrive at new geographical areas and how they manage to maintain viable populations and even expand their ranges. We discuss host specificity in avian haemosporidians and how encounter and compatibility filters affect the dispersal of avian haemosporidians, and how these filters affect avian haemosporidian assemblages at different spatial and evolutionary scales. There are at least three important barriers to the dispersal of avian haemosporidians: (i) geographic barriers, (ii) environmental barriers, and (iii) interspecies barriers. In this chapter, we discuss the factors involved in these barriers and their effects on the structure of avian haemosporidian assemblages. Host specificity plays an important role in parasite dispersal, and in the case of avian haemosporidians that are vector-borne parasites, it needs to be evaluated both at the vector and bird host levels. Understanding the effects of these factors on host–vector–parasite dynamics is important to unravel the dispersal and diversification mechanisms of avian haemosporidians. We end this chapter reviewing host specialization in avian haemosporidians of tropical regions, discussing the mechanisms involved in the dispersal and specialization of these parasites and point out important research gaps that need attention.