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Novel phylogenetic clade of avian Haemoproteus parasites (Haemosporida, Haemoproteidae) from Accipitridae raptors, with description of a new Haemoproteus species.

Avian haemosporidian parasites (order Haemosporida, phylum Apicomplexa) are blood and tissue parasites transmitted by blood-sucking dipteran insects. Three genera (Plasmodium, Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon) have been most often found in birds, with over 270 species described and named in avian hosts based mainly on the morphological characters of blood stages. A broad diversity of Haemoproteus parasites remains to be identified and characterized morphologically and molecularly, especially those infecting birds of prey, an underrepresented bird group in haemosporidian parasite studies. The aim of this study was to investigate and identify Haemoproteus parasites from a large sample comprising accipitriform raptors of 16 species combining morphological and new molecular protocols targeting the cytb genes of this parasite group. This study provides morphological descriptions and molecular characterizations of two Haemoproteus species, H. multivacuolatus n. sp. and H. nisi Peirce and Marquiss, 1983. Haemoproteus parasites of this group were so far found in accipitriform raptors only and might be classified into a separate subgenus or even genus. Cytb sequences of these parasites diverge by more than 15% from those of all others known avian haemosporidian genera and form a unique phylogenetic clade. This study underlines the importance of developing new diagnostic tools to detect molecularly highly divergent parasites that might be undetectable by commonly used conventional tools.

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