Lizards Infected with Malaria: Physiological and Behavioral Consequences

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In northern California, western fence lizards, Sceloporus occidentalis, are frequently parasitized by Plasmodium mexicanum, which causes malaria. Animals with this naturally occurring malarial infection are anemic; immature erythrocytes in peripheral blood become abundant (1 to 30 percent), and blood hemoglobin concentration decreases 25 percent. Maximal oxygen consumption decreases 15 percent and aerobic scope drops 29 percent in infected lizards; both correlate with blood hemoglobin concentration. Running stamina, but not burst running speed, is reduced in malarious lizards. There is a hierarchical relation between infection with malaria and effects on hematology, physiological function, and behavioral capacity. The results suggest that malarial infection may have significant effects on the ecology of lizard hosts.

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