Disease screening of three breeding populations of adult exhibition budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) in New Zealand reveals a high prevalence of a novel polyomavirus and avian malaria infection
Disease surveillance is vital to the management of New Zealand’s endemic and threatened avian species. Three infectious agents that are potential threats to New Zealand’s endemic birds include avian polyomavirus (APV), beak and feather disease virus (BFDV), and avian malaria. All three agents have been reported in New Zealand; however, possible reservoir populations have not been identified. In this communication, we report the first study of APV, BFDV, and avian malaria in introduced adult exhibition budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) in New Zealand. Blood samples were collected from 90 living adult budgerigars from three breeding locations in the North Island of New Zealand. An overall APV prevalence of 22% was determined using a broad-spectrum nested PCR that amplified the major capsid protein VP1 gene of polyomavirus. Phylogenetic analysis of the VP1 gene revealed a unique isolate of APV, which had a sequence divergence of 32% to previously reported budgerigar fledgling disease strains and 33% to the recently reported New Zealand finch isolate. All of the budgerigars sampled were found to be PCR negative for BFDV, and an overall prevalence of 30% was detected by PCR for avian malaria. Sequencing revealed the presence of ubiquitous malarial strains and also the potentially destructive Plasmodium relictum strain. The results of this study suggest that both APV and avian malaria are present in New Zealand adult budgerigars, and our study highlights the need for further studies to determine whether these pathogens in captive bird populations may be a threat or spill over into New Zealand’s endemic and threatened avifauna and whether prevention and control methods need to be implemented.