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The ecology of infectious pathogens in a long distance migratory bird, the blue-winged teal (Anas discors): from individuals to populations



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The aim of this study is to improve our understanding of the ecology, spatiotemporal patterns, and risk of infectious pathogens of migratory waterfowl, using the blue-winged teal (Anas discors, BWTE), as a model. From 2007-2010, 1,869 BWTE were sampled in the prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Canada) to examine infection status and/or evidence of previous exposure to avian influenza virus (AIV), West Nile virus (WNV), and avian paramyxovirus-1 (APMV-1), in relation to host demographic variables (age, sex, body condition, exposure to other pathogens), other ecological variables such as local waterfowl breeding population density and local pond density, and year. The probability of AIV infection depended on an interaction between age and AIV antibody status. Hatch year birds with antibodies to AIV were more likely to be infected, suggesting an antibody response to an active infection. After hatch year birds with antibodies to AIV were less likely to be infected, suggesting immunity resulting from previous exposure. AIV infection was positively associated with local BWTE density, supporting the hypothesis of density dependent transmission. Exposure to WNV and APMV-1 were also associated with age and year. Furthermore, the probability of WNV exposure was positively associated with local pond density rather than host population density, likely because ponds provide suitable breeding habitat for mosquitoes, the primary vectors for transmission. We also investigated large-scale spatiotemporal trends in apparent prevalence of AIV across Canada and the United States throughout the year, using data from national avian influenza surveillance programs in Canada and the US in 2007-2010. Our analyses revealed that age, sex, year of sampling, flyway, latitude, and season (categorized by stages of the BWTE annual life cycle) were all important variables in predicting probability of AIV infection. There was an interaction between age and season. During late summer staging (August) and fall migration (September-October), hatch year birds were more likely to be infected than after hatch year birds, however there was no difference between age categories for the remainder of the year (winter, spring migration, and breeding season). Probability of infection increased non-linearly with latitude, and was highest in summer, corresponding to the beginning of fall migration when densities of birds and the proportion of susceptible hatch year birds in the population are highest. Birds in the Pacific, Central and Mississippi flyways were significantly more likely to be infected compared to those in the Atlantic flyway. Observed trends in seasonal, annual, and geographic patterns of AIV infection in BWTE across Canada and the US were primarily driven by the dynamics of AIV infection in hatch year birds. Our results demonstrate demographic as well as seasonal, latitudinal and flyway trends across Canada and the US. This research provided further evidence for the role of wild dabbling ducks, particularly BWTE, in the maintenance and ecology of AIV. This improved understanding of the role of BWTE as natural hosts, and the geographic, demographic and temporal variables that affect infection and transmission parameters, moves us closer to deciphering the overall ecology of the virus and its transmission and transportation pathways at the individual, population and continental levels. This knowledge, in turn, will permit development of better tools to predict and perhaps to prevent possible outbreaks in domestic animals as well as in humans.



Avian influenza, avian paramyxovirus, blue-winged teal, disease ecology, migratory waterfowl, molecular diagnostics, serology, West Nile virus



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Veterinary Pathology


Veterinary Pathology


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