Host-parasite interactions in Himalayan Birds
Birds do not leave their parasites behind when they migrate back from their wintering to their breeding grounds. The role of migratory birds to spread diseases between regions has been widely documented; however, the extent to which the parasite diversity and transmission varies between migrant and non-migrant host species has not been adequately explored across an altitudinal gradient in western Himalayas. Many migrants move between altitudes or to the plains, and thereby encounter different faunas of parasites and pathogens compared with resident species. In plains, the resident birds may act as reservoirs for blood parasites, increasing the risk of migrants to become infected with new parasites in wintering ground. Given that suitable vectors are present to transmit and maintain the infection, such migrants can form effective bridge for parasites between wintering and breeding grounds. Hence, increases the risk of infection to naïve resident birds in high-altitude. We aim to explore the degree to which (a) migrant and resident avian hosts are infected with three vector-borne parasite genera Plasmodium, Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon across altitudes in the western Himalayas, (b) expansion or contraction in geographical or altitudinal ranges of vector communities and consequent risks of parasite transmission in malaria-free zones. We use a wide range of multidisciplinary field and lab analytical techniques (see below).
Hypoxia physiology and Immune genes
Environmental hypoxia - the decreased partial pressure of oxygen - and cold temperature are important physiological stressors on organisms living in a high elevation environment and are the key drivers in the evolution of high elevation adaptations in montane organisms. We are interested in finding out how does migrant birds cope with change in haemoglobin concentration as well as parasite infections acquired during migration journey.
Malaria parasites use vertebrate hosts for asexual multiplication and Culicidae mosquitoes and other blood feeding arthropods for sexual and asexual development. We are interested in identifying vector for avian malaria and their host breadth index.