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Poecivirus is present in individuals with beak deformities in seven species of North American birds

January 18, 2021

Avian keratin disorder (AKD), a disease of unknown etiology characterized by debilitating beak overgrowth, has increasingly affected wild bird populations since the 1990s. A novel picornavirus, poecivirus, is closely correlated with disease status in Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) in Alaska. However, our knowledge of the relationship between poecivirus and beak deformities in other species and other geographic areas remains limited. The growing geographic scope and number of species affected by AKD-like beak deformities require a better understanding of the causative agent to evaluate the population-level impacts of this epizootic. Here, we tested eight individuals from six avian species with AKD-consistent deformities for the presence of poecivirus: Mew Gull (Larus canus), Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia), American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis), and Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata). The birds were sampled in Alaska and Maine (1999−2016). We used targeted PCR followed by Sanger sequencing to test for the presence of poecivirus in each specimen and to obtain viral genome sequence from virus-positive host individuals. We detected poecivirus in all individuals tested, but not in negative controls (water and tissue samples). Furthermore, we used unbiased metagenomic sequencing to test for the presence of other pathogens in six of these specimens (Hairy Woodpecker, two American Crows, two Red-breasted Nuthatches, Blackpoll Warbler). This analysis yielded additional viral sequences from several specimens, including the complete coding region of poecivirus from one Red-breasted Nuthatch, which we confirmed via targeted PCR followed by Sanger sequencing. This study demonstrates that poecivirus is present in individuals with AKD-consistent deformities from six avian species other than Black-capped Chickadee. While further investigation will be required to explore whether there exists a causal link between this virus and AKD, this study demonstrates that poecivirus is not geographically restricted to Alaska, but rather occurs elsewhere in North America.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Poecivirus is present in individuals with beak deformities in seven species of North American birds
DOI 10.7589/JWD-D-20-00017
Authors Maxine Zylberberg, Caroline R. Van Hemert, Colleen M. Handel, Rachel Liu, Joseph L. DeRisi
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Wildlife Diseases
Series Number
Index ID 70217749
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB