Protozoans within the genus Plasmodium are well-known as the causative agents of malaria in humans. Numerous Plasmodium species parasites also infect a wide range of non-human primate hosts in tropical and sub-tropical regions worldwide. Studying this diversity can provide critical insight into our understanding of human malarias, as several human malaria species are a result of host switches from non-human primates. Current spillover of a monkey malaria, Plasmodium knowlesi, in Southeast Asia highlights the permeability of species barriers in Plasmodium. Also recently, surveys of apes in Africa uncovered a previously undescribed diversity of Plasmodium in chimpanzees and gorillas. Therefore, we carried out a meta-analysis to quantify the global distribution, host range, and diversity of known non-human primate malaria species. We used published records of Plasmodium parasites found in non-human primates to estimate the total diversity of non-human primate malarias globally. We estimate that at least three undescribed primate malaria species exist in sampled primates, and many more likely exist in unstudied species. The diversity of malaria parasites is especially uncertain in regions of low sampling such as Madagascar, and taxonomic groups such as African Old World Monkeys and gibbons. Presence-absence data of malaria across primates enables us to highlight the close association of forested regions and non-human primate malarias. This distribution potentially reflects a long coevolution of primates, forest-adapted mosquitoes, and malaria parasites. The diversity and distribution of primate malaria are an essential prerequisite to understanding the mechanisms and circumstances that allow Plasmodium to jump species barriers, both in the evolution of malaria parasites and current cases of spillover into humans.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
- Infectious Diseases
- Malaria richness
- Plasmodium knowlesi
- Species richness estimates