High Priority Species for Avian Influenza in Alaska

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In early 2006, an Alaska Interagency Avian Influenza Working Group was formed to develop a ranking matrix for selecting priority species to be sampled within Alaska. Most wild bird species with populations that utilize areas of both Alaska and Asia were identified and considered in the ranking exercise. Based on scoring criteria, 28 target species were chosen for sampling. Alaska is a geographically important focus of the surveillance program because it lies within the migratory routes of birds that move between North America and Asia.  Because of these migratory routes, Alaska is a likely location for initial introductions of foreign-origin avian diseases.

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Concerns for human health and the impacts of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) strains on domestic and wild birds prompted an inter-agency surveillance program to monitor and provide scientific data on the virus. The USGS has been part of this effort since 2006 and has contributed significant scientific information and analytical advances for decision-making by domestic poultry and natural resource agencies.  Based on scoring criteria, 28 target species were chosen for sampling based on five factors: 1) proportion of the population occurring in Asia, 2) contact with a known ‘hot spot’ or source of highly pathogenic avian influenza, 3) habitats used in Asia in context with exposure potential, 4) population size in Alaska, and 5) ability to obtain a representative sample of sufficient size.  The USGS continues to conduct surveillance and research each year on wild, migratory birds throughout North America. Information about these species can be found below.

However, as USGS and other agency partners began to look at the virus data from wild bird sampling, it became clear that some birds and regions were not useful for obtaining viral genetic information that informed future surveillance plans (see Ramey et al. 2010).  Thus, currently, the USGS now samples annually at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in the fall and only samples a handful of species, such as northern pintail, emperor geese, and glaucous-winged gulls.  By reducing the scale of our sampling, we obtain valuable information on avian influenza for a much smaller cost.

Gulls and Terns
Aleutian Tern
Glaucous-winged Gull
Glaucous Gull

Landbirds
Lesser Sandhill Crane
Eastern Yellow Wagtail
Arctic Warbler
Gray-cheeked Thrush

Shorebirds
Dunlin
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Bar-tailed Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Pectoral Sandpiper
Red Knot
Long-billed Dowitcher
Rock Sandpiper
Pacific Golden-Plover
Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Waterfowl
Steller’s Eider
Northern Pintail
Lesser Snow Goose
Emperor Goose
Spectacled Eider
Black Brant
Tundra Swan
Long-tailed Duck
Aleutian Cackling Geese
Pacific Common Eider
King Eider