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Creators/Authors contains: "Paxton, Kristina L."

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  1. Abstract

    The unprecedented rise in the number of new and emerging infectious diseases in the last quarter century poses direct threats to human and wildlife health. The introduction to the Hawaiian archipelago of Plasmodium relictum and the mosquito vector that transmits the parasite has led to dramatic losses in endemic Hawaiian forest bird species. Understanding how mechanisms of disease immunity to avian malaria may evolve is critical as climate change facilitates increased disease transmission to high elevation habitats where malaria transmission has historically been low and the majority of the remaining extant Hawaiian forest bird species now reside. Here, we compare the transcriptomic profiles of highly susceptible Hawai‘i ‘amakihi (Chlorodrepanis virens) experimentally infected with P. relictum to those of uninfected control birds from a naïve high elevation population. We examined changes in gene expression profiles at different stages of infection to provide an in-depth characterization of the molecular pathways contributing to survival or mortality in these birds. We show that the timing and magnitude of the innate and adaptive immune response differed substantially between individuals that survived and those that succumbed to infection, and likely contributed to the observed variation in survival. These results lay the foundation for developing gene-based conservation strategies for Hawaiian honeycreepers by identifying candidate genes and cellular pathways involved in the pathogen response that correlate with a bird’s ability to recover from malaria infection.

     
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  2. Abstract

    Of the estimated 55 Hawaiian honeycreepers (subfamily Carduelinae) only 17 species remain, nine of which the International Union for Conservation of Nature considers endangered. Among the most pressing threats to honeycreeper survival is avian malaria, caused by the introduced blood parasitePlasmodium relictum, which is increasing in distribution in Hawaiʻi as a result of climate change. Preventing further honeycreeper decline will require innovative conservation strategies that confront malaria from multiple angles. Research on mammals has revealed strong connections between gut microbiome composition and malaria susceptibility, illuminating a potential novel approach to malaria control through the manipulation of gut microbiota. One honeycreeper species, Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi (Chlorodrepanis virens), persists in areas of high malaria prevalence, indicating they have acquired some level of immunity. To investigate if avian host‐specific microbes may be associated with malaria survival, we characterized cloacal microbiomes and malaria infection for 174 ʻamakihi and 172 malaria‐resistant warbling white‐eyes (Zosterops japonicus) from Hawaiʻi Island using 16S rRNA gene metabarcoding and quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Neither microbial alpha nor beta diversity covaried with infection, but 149 microbes showed positive associations with malaria survivors. Among these wereEscherichiaandLactobacillusspp., which appear to mitigate malaria severity in mammalian hosts, revealing promising candidates for future probiotic research for augmenting malaria immunity in sensitive endangered species.

     
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  3. Abstract

    The malaria parasitePlasmodium relictum(lineage GRW4) was introduced less than a century ago to the native avifauna of Hawaiʻi, where it has since caused major declines of endemic bird populations. One of the native bird species that is frequently infected with GRW4 is the Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi (Chlorodrepanis virens). To achieve a better understanding of the transcriptional activities of this virulent parasite, we performed a controlled challenge experiment of 15 ʻamakihi that were infected with GRW4. Blood samples containing malaria parasites were collected at two time points (intermediate and peak infection stages) from host individuals that were either experimentally infected by mosquitoes or inoculated with infected blood. We then used RNA sequencing to assemble a high‐quality blood transcriptome ofP. relictumGRW4, allowing us to quantify parasite expression levels inside individual birds. We found few significant differences (one to two transcripts) in GRW4 expression levels between host infection stages and between inoculation methods. However, 36 transcripts showed differential expression levels among all host individuals, indicating a potential presence of host‐specific gene regulation across hosts. To reduce the extinction risk of the remaining native bird species in Hawaiʻi, genetic resources of the localPlasmodiumlineage are needed to enable further molecular characterization of this parasite. Our newly built Hawaiian GRW4 transcriptome assembly, together with analyses of the parasite's transcriptional activities inside the blood of Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi, can provide us with important knowledge on how to combat this deadly avian disease in the future.

     
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  4. Abstract

    The annual migration of a bird can involve thousands of kilometres of nonstop flight, requiring accurately timed seasonal changes in physiology and behaviour. Understanding the molecular mechanisms controlling this endogenous programme can provide functional and evolutionary insights into the circannual biological clock and the potential of migratory species to adapt to changing environments. Under naturally timed photoperiod conditions, we maintained captive Swainson's thrushes (Catharus ustulatus) and performedRNAsequencing (RNA‐Seq) of the ventral hypothalamus and optic chiasma to evaluate transcriptome‐wide gene expression changes of individuals in migratory condition. We found that 188 genes were differentially expressed in relation to migratory state, 86% of which have not been previously linked to avian migration. Focal hub genes were identified that are candidate variables responsible for the occurrence of migration (e.g.CRABP1). Numerous genes involved in cell adhesion, proliferation and motility were differentially expressed (includingRHOJ,PAK1andTLN1), suggesting that migration‐related changes are regulated by seasonal neural plasticity.

     
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