The population growth of endangered whooping cranes (Grus americana) is not consistent with species recovery goals, and the impact of parasite infection on whooping crane populations is largely unknown. Disease ecology and epidemiology research of endangered species is often hindered by limited ability to conduct invasive sampling on the target taxa. Accordingly, we hypothesized that sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) would be a useful surrogate species to investigate the health impacts of Haemosporida infection in whooping cranes. Our goal was to compare the prevalence and diversity of Haemosporida infection between whooping cranes and sandhill cranes. We detected an overall infection prevalence of 83·6% (n = 61) in whooping cranes and 59·6% (n = 47) and 63·6 (n = 22) in two sympatric sandhill crane populations captured in Texas. Prevalence was significantly lower in allopatric sandhill cranes captured in New Mexico (12·1%, n = 33). Haemoproteus antigonis was the most abundant haemoparasite in cranes, present in 57·4% of whooping cranes and 39·2% of sandhill cranes; Plasmodium and Leucocytozoon were present at significantly lower levels. The high prevalence of Haemosporida in whooping cranes and sympatric sandhill cranes, with shared parasite lineages between the two species, supports sandhill cranes as a surrogate species for understanding health threats to endangered whooping cranes.
- HaemosporidaWhooping CraneGrus AmericanaSandhill CraneGrus CanadensisMolecular EpizootiologySurrogate Species