Alaska birds pick up malaria strain in warming climate

A strain of malaria found in birds and unable to infect humans has been detected in Alaska birds from Anchorage to Fairbanks latitudes, say scientists writing in the journal PLOS ONE. The Kodiak Daily Mirror (subscription required) says the San Francisco State University-led research team is crediting the arrival of the malaria parasite in the state to global warming.

For two years, [associate professor Ravinder] Sehgal's team captured and tested more than 600 birds from Anchorage to Coldfoot on the Arctic Circle. Birds tested positive from Anchorage north to about 64 degrees north latitude, as far north as Fairbanks.

Climate modeling applied to the test results shows that in the next 50 years, avian malaria may spread north of the Arctic Circle but not north of the Brooks Range. That's a concern for bird species in the north that haven't been previously exposed to malaria.

Penguins infected with malaria in warm-weather zoos die at a rate much more frequently than other birds infected with malaria, Sehgal said. How susceptible northern birds will be to malaria remains unknown. "This is something we don't know," he said.

Read more at Climate Central: Avian malaria in Alaska: The climate change connection