Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Indian Myna Is Spreading Avian Malaria

An invasive bird species is carrying, and potentially spreading, avian malaria throughout its range in eastern Australia, a Griffith University PhD candidate has uncovered.

Nicholas Clark found that up to 40% of Indian mynas in south-east Queensland can carry malaria parasites. While they can’t infect humans, the parasites pose a significant threat to native wildlife.

Since mynas carry some malaria strains that are exotic to Australia, the spread of the myna could put native birds such as parrots, magpies and butcher birds at risk.

“Malaria parasites are common in Australian birds, but through the use of genetic techniques I have discovered they are more diverse than originally thought,” Clark said.

Some of the malaria parasites found in Australia were probably introduced from other countries and are now being spread by the myna, which was brought to Australia in the 1800s to control insect pests on crops. “These malaria parasites seem to have little effect on the mynas but could be harmful to native birds as they come in contact with each other,” Clark said.

“Mynas are known to impact native birds by driving them away from nesting sites, but my work suggests they are also exposing our natives to new diseases.”

Clark, whose discovery was published in the International Journal for Parasitology, said that avian malaria parasites cannot be spread to people. However, he said that the next step in his research would be to investigate what other diseases invasive birds like the Indian mynas are potentially carrying, and determine if these are a risk to people.