By Michelle Z. Donahue
As average annual temperatures increase, mosquitoes have also been on the move—up the mountains of the Hawaiian islands. Once a refuge for native birds susceptible to mosquito-transmitted avian malaria, altitude no longer guarantees safety from a disease that can kill them in a matter of days.
The question of what may happen to these endangered birds as their environments continue to shift due to climate change is key to their ultimate survival. The answer may lie in their genes.
Over the next several years, bird, malaria and mosquito experts from Rutgers University, the Smithsonian, and other research organizations will be working to sequence genomes of the amakihi, a species of Hawaiian honeycreeper with populations that appear to be developing resistance or tolerance to avian malaria. They’ll also be sequencing genomes of the southern house mosquito (Culex quinquefasciatus) and the malaria parasite it carries, Plasmodium relictum, both invasive to Hawaii.
The National Science Foundation awarded the team a four-year, $2.5 million grant to conduct the work.