Prevalence of avian influenza and host ecology
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES
, p. 2003-2012
University of Antwerp
Waterfowl and shorebirds are common reservoirs of the low pathogenic subtypes of avian influenza (LPAI), which are easily transmitted to poultry and become highly pathogenic. As the risk of virus transmission depends on the prevalence of LPAI in host-reservoir systems, there is an urgent need for understanding how host ecology, life history and behaviour can affect virus prevalence in the wild. To test for the most important ecological correlates of LPAI virus prevalence at the interspecific level, we applied a comparative analysis by using quantitative data on 30 bird species. We controlled for similarity among species due to common descent, differences in study effort and for covariance among ecological variables. We found that LPAI prevalence is a species-specific attribute and is a consequence of virus susceptibility, as it was negatively associated with the relative size of the bursa of Fabricius, an estimate of juvenile immune function. Species that migrate long distances have elevated prevalence of LPAI independent of phylogeny and other confounding factors. There was also a positive interspecific relationship between the frequency of surface feeding and virus prevalence, but this was sensitive to phylogenetic relatedness of species. Feeding in marine habitats is apparently associated with lower virus prevalence, but the effect of water salinity is likely to be indirect and affected by phylogeny. Our results imply that virus transmission via surface waters and frequent intra- and interspecific contacts during long migration are the major risk factors of avian influenza in the wild. However, the link between exploitation of surface waters and LPAI prevalence appears to be weaker than previously thought. This is the first interspecific study that provides statistical evidence that host ecology, immunity and phylogeny have important consequence for virus prevalence.