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Species limits in avian malaria parasites (Haemosporida): how to move forward in the molecular era



Delimiting species of malaria parasites (Haemosporida) has become increasingly problematic as new lineages of parasites are identified solely by molecular information, particularly mitochondrial cytochrome b sequence data. In this review, we highlight some of the issues, both historical and contemporary, that have hindered the development of objective criteria to diagnose, delimit and define species of haemosporidians. Defining species is not the focal interest of most researchers, most of whom merely wish to determine whether lineages identified in their samples match those of other researchers, and if so, where and in which host species. Rather than revisiting all the issues with respect to delimiting and naming species, we instead focus on finding a practical near-term resolution to the ‘species problem’ that utilizes the community's largest resource: mitochondrial cytochrome b DNA sequences. We recommend a standardized procedure to ‘tag’ these sequences, based on per cent sequence similarity, that will allow researchers to directly assess the novelty, known hosts and geographic distribution of avian malaria parasite lineages.


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* Corresponding author: Department of Biological Sciences, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS 39759, USA. E-mail:


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