The finch epidemic strain of Trichomonas gallinae is predominant in British non-passerines

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Avian trichomonosis, caused by the flagellated protozoan Trichomonas gallinae, is a recently emerged infectious disease of British passerines. The aetiological agent, a clonal epidemic strain of the parasite, has caused unprecedented finch mortality and population-level declines in Britain and has since spread to continental Europe. To better understand the potential origin of this epidemic and to further investigate its host range, T. gallinae DNA extracts were collected from parasite culture and tissue samples from a range of avian species in Britain. Sequence typing at the ITS1/5.8S rRNA/ITS2 region resolved three distinct ITS region types circulating in free-ranging British birds. Subtyping by sequence analyses at the Fe-hydrogenase gene demonstrated further strain variation within these ITS region types. The UK finch epidemic strain was preponderant amongst columbids sampled, however, wide strain diversity was encountered in isolates from a relatively small number of pigeons, suggesting further strains present in columbid populations across the UK are yet to be identified. Fe-hydrogenase gene sequence data in isolates from birds of prey with disease were predominantly identical to the UK finch epidemic strain, demonstrating its presence as a virulent strain in UK birds of prey since at least 2009.