Resistance to avian malaria in Hawai’i amakihi

Genomics of resistance to avian malaria among Hawaii amakihi:

Avian malaria was introduced to Hawaii in the 1930s and caused devastating population declines in many native Hawaiian birds, driving some to extinction.   Some species, notably the Hawai’i amakihi (Hemignathus virens), were able to persist in small, isolated populations and have developed the ability to survive malaria infection.  Recently, amakihi populations have begun to rebound despite the widespread presence of malaria.  It is our goal to characterize the genomic changes that are involved in resistance and tolerance to avian malaria.

To do this, we are using an amakihi reference genome developed by T. Callicrate and others, along with the annotated zebrafinch genome, to identify SNPs that are associated with malaria survival.  Using capture arrays created from RAD tags, we have ~300,000 SNPs with relatively even coverage across the genome. The following figure is a representation of the degree of diversity across Chromosome 1 in 18 birds, with darker blue bars representing more SNPs in that region.


Rob Fleischer, Smithsonian National Zoo

Taylor Callicrate, Smithsonian National Zoo & University of Maryland