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Ecological divergence of wild birds drives avian influenza spillover and global spread

May 19, 2022

The diversity of influenza A viruses (IAV) is primarily hosted by two highly divergent avian orders: Anseriformes (ducks, swans and geese) and Charadriiformes (gulls, terns and shorebirds). Studies of IAV have historically focused on Anseriformes, specifically dabbling ducks, overlooking the diversity of hosts in nature, including gull and goose species that have successfully adapted to human habitats. This study sought to address this imbalance by characterizing spillover dynamics and global transmission patterns of IAV over 10 years at greater taxonomic resolution than previously considered. Furthermore, the circulation of viral subtypes in birds that are either host-adapted (low pathogenic H13, H16) or host-generalist (highly pathogenic avian influenza—HPAI H5) provided a unique opportunity to test and extend models of viral evolution. Using Bayesian phylodynamic modelling we uncovered a complex transmission network that relied on ecologically divergent bird hosts. The generalist subtype, HPAI H5 was driven largely by wild geese and swans that acted as a source for wild ducks, gulls, land birds, and domestic geese. Gulls were responsible for moving HPAI H5 more rapidly than any other host, a finding that may reflect their long-distance, pelagic movements and their immuno-naïve status against this subtype. Wild ducks, long viewed as primary hosts for spillover, occupied an optimal space for viral transmission, contributing to geographic expansion and rapid dispersal of HPAI H5. Evidence of inter-hemispheric dispersal via both the Pacific and Atlantic Rims was detected, supporting surveillance at high latitudes along continental margins to achieve early detection. Both neutral (geographic expansion) and non-neutral (antigenic selection) evolutionary processes were found to shape subtype evolution which manifested as unique geographic hotspots for each subtype at the global scale. This study reveals how a diversity of avian hosts contribute to viral spread and spillover with the potential to improve surveillance in an era of rapid global change.

Publication Year 2022
Title Ecological divergence of wild birds drives avian influenza spillover and global spread
DOI 10.1371/journal.ppat.1010062
Authors Nichola J. Hill, Mary Anne Bishop, Nidia S. Trovao, Katherine Ineson, Anne Schaefer, Wendy B. Puryear, Katherine Zhou, Alexa Foss, Dan Clark, Ken McKenzie, Jonathan D. Jr. Gass, Laura Borkenhagen, Jeffrey S. Hall, Jonathan A. Runstadler
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS Pathogens
Index ID 70232125
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center