2016 Katma Award
The Cooper Ornithological Society is pleased to present the 2016 KatmaAward to Drs. Muhammad Asghar, Infectious Disease Unit, Department of Medicine Solna, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, Dennis Hasselquist, Department of Biology, Lund University, Lund, Sweden, Bengt Hansson, Department of Biology, Lund University, Pavel Zehtindjiev, Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia, Bulgaria, Helena Westerdahl, Department of Biology, Lund University, Staffan Bensch, Department of Biology, Lund University, for their paper “Hidden costs of infection:Chronic malaria accelerates telomere degradation and senescence in wild birds” which appeared in 2015 in Science (347:436–438).
The name KATMA, as derived from the Greek root kat meaning “against” for theories that are proposed to replace current dogma, or settled opinion. Serious work that questions current dogma too often is stifled by those who are angered by seeing their own work questioned. Great katmatists like Galileo and Darwin are heroes of science. A full explanation of the Katma Award was published in 2003, Volume 105(4):843 of The Condor.
For decades, ornithologists have recognized that parasites and the disease they cause are an important evolutionary force. For instance, the bright feather coloration of birds is proposed to evolve in response to parasites, and parasites can shape the ranges of birds.With so much focus on avian disease and such a broad foundation of knowledge regarding how parasites interact with birds, the data and insights presented in “Hidden costs of infection: Chronic malaria accelerates telomere degradation and senescence in wild birds” by Asghar, Hasselquist, Hansson, Zehtindjiev, Westerdahl, and Bensch are startling in their novelty and implications. These authors analyzed life-history data from a long-term study of Great Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) in Sweden including in particular the fitness costs of infection by the protozoan parasites Plasmodium and Haemoproteus spp. (hereafter malaria infection). A large proportion of bird populations on Earth deal with malaria infections, so the implications of such a study are potentially far-reaching.The results reported by Asghar et al. challenge conventional thinking that low-level, chronic malarial infections in birds have no fitness consequences. Asghar et al. found that low-level infection by malarial parasites caused significant negative effects on reproduction and longevity.Moreover, they presented data that the mechanism by which malarial infection impacted survival and reproduction was through negative effects on telomeres, the nucleoprotein structures that cap the ends of chromosomes. The 2016 Katma award is bestowed upon Asghar et al. for the novel approaches taken in the study of subtle effects avian malaria on songbirds. It is a study that challenges conventional thinking regarding the fitness consequences of low-level parasite infections with large implications for avian life history theory.