According to a new study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, malaria has been found in birds in parts of Alaska, and global climate change will drive it even farther north.
The spread could prove devastating to arctic bird species that have never encountered the disease and thus have no resistance to it, said San Francisco State University Associate Professor of Biology Ravinder Sehgal, one of the study's co-authors. It may also help scientists understand the effects of climate change on the spread of human malaria, which is caused by a similar parasite.
Researchers examined blood samples from birds collected at four sites of varying latitude, with Anchorage as a southern point, Denali and Fairbanks as middle points and Coldfoot as a northern point, roughly 600 miles north of Anchorage. They found infected birds in Anchorage and Fairbanks but not in Coldfoot.
Using satellite imagery and other data, researchers were able to predict how environments will change due to global warming -- and where malaria parasites will be able to survive in the future. They found that by 2080, the disease will have spread north to Coldfoot and beyond.