USGS Wild Bird Avian Influenza Program – Studies from Endemic Regions of Eurasia

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This project focuses on tracking wild birds throughout Eurasia via satellite telemetry to better understand their spatiotemporal movement patterns, relationship to domestic birds, and potential role in the spread, persistence, and amplification of avian influenza viruses.

The Challenge: Following outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in Eurasia, many researchers have attempted to determine how this virus spreads across the landscape. Unfortunately, prior to this work, most studies on HPAI movements were based on virology data alone, and no information on host ecology. Beginning in 2007, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (PWRC) and Western Ecological Research Center (WERC) developed a Wild Bird Avian Influenza Program to improve the scientific understanding of the role wild bird’s play in the circulation of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

In collaborations with Glenn Olsen at USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS Western Ecological Research Center & USGS Alaska science Center

The Science: Our research began with marking waterfowl species from Qinghai Lake, China, with satellite telemetry units to understand movement patterns and exposure to poultry and virus risk factors.  In an expanded partnership with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and multiple local partners, we have marked more than 650 waterfowl of 24 species within HPAI zones of persistence. The work spans 11 countries and the 4 main flyways of Eurasia (East African – West Asian, Black Sea - Mediterranean, Central Asian, and East Asian flyway). Using remote sensing, spatial, and statistical approaches we have modeled H5N1 transmission risk between wild and domestic bird populations, incorporating uncertainty within the modeling process. Our studies provide new information that counters some hypothesized movements proposed in prior studies and stress the need for a combined approach of virology and ecology of wild host species.

The Future: This study has, and will continue to, provide valuable insight into risk factors for the spread of HPAI, and the role wild bird’s play in transmitting such viruses across the landscape. By continuing to increase and analyze this data set we hope to provide researchers with a better understanding of this emerging issue.