The unicellular blood parasites in the order Haemosporida are highly diverse, infect many vertebrates, are responsible for a large disease burden among humans and animals, and have reemerged as an important model system to understand the evolutionary and ecological dynamics of host-parasite interactions. The phylogenetics and systematics of Haemosporida are limited by poor sampling of different vertebrate host taxa. We surveyed the Haemosporida of wild whooping cranes (Grus americana) and sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) (Aves: Gruiformes) using a combination of morphological and molecular approaches. We identified Haemoproteus antigonis in blood smears based on published morphological descriptions. Phylogenetic analysis based on partial cytochrome b (cytb) and cytochrome oxidase (coI) sequences placed H. antigonis parasites in a novel clade, distinct from all avian Haemosporida genera for which cytb and/or coI sequences are available. Molecular clock and divergence estimates suggest this crane clade may represent a new genus. This is the first molecular description of H. antigonis and the first report of H. antigonis in wild whooping cranes, an endangered bird in North America. Further sampling of Haemosporida, especially from hosts of the Gruiformes and other poorly sampled orders, will help to resolve the relationship of the H. antigonis clade to other avian Haemosporida genera. Our study highlights the potential of sampling neglected host species to discover novel lineages of diverse parasite groups.
- HaemosporidaHaemoproteus AntigonisMolecular CharacterizationHost-parasite EvolutionWhooping CraneGrus Americana