Wild bonobos host geographically restricted malaria parasites including a putative new Laverania species

Weimin Liu, Scott Sherrill-Mix, Gerald H. Learn, Erik J. Scully, Yingying Li, Alexa N. Avitto, Dorothy E. Loy, Abigail P. Lauder, Sesh A. Sundararaman, Lindsey J. Plenderleith, Jean Bosco N. Ndjango, Alexander V. Georgiev, Steve Ahuka-Mundeke, Martine Peeters, Paco Bertolani, Jef Dupain, Cintia Garai, John A. Hart, Terese B. Hart, George M. ShawPaul M. Sharp, Beatrice H. Hahn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Malaria parasites, though widespread among wild chimpanzees and gorillas, have not been detected in bonobos. Here, we show that wild-living bonobos are endemically Plasmodium infected in the eastern-most part of their range. Testing 1556 faecal samples from 11 field sites, we identify high prevalence Laverania infections in the Tshuapa-Lomami-Lualaba (TL2) area, but not at other locations across the Congo. TL2 bonobos harbour P. gaboni, formerly only found in chimpanzees, as well as a potential new species, Plasmodium lomamiensis sp. nov. Rare co-infections with non-Laverania parasites were also observed. Phylogenetic relationships among Laverania species are consistent with co-divergence with their gorilla, chimpanzee and bonobo hosts, suggesting a timescale for their evolution. The absence of Plasmodium from most field sites could not be explained by parasite seasonality, nor by bonobo population structure, diet or gut microbiota. Thus, the geographic restriction of bonobo Plasmodium reflects still unidentified factors that likely influence parasite transmission.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1635
Number of pages14
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Early online date21 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Ecological epidemiology
  • Parasite evolution
  • Parasite genomics


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