Studies of pathogen transmission typically overlook that wildlife hosts can include both migrant and resident populations when attempting to model circulation. Through the application of stable isotopes in flight feathers, we estimated the migration strategy of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) occurring on California wintering grounds. Our study demonstrates that mallards- a principal host of avian influenza virus (AIV) in nature, contribute differently to virus gene flow depending on migration strategy. No difference in AIV prevalence was detected between resident (9.6%), intermediate-distance (9.6%) and long-distance migrants (7.4%). Viral diversity among the three groups was also comparable, possibly owing to viral pool mixing when birds converge at wetlands during winter. However, migrants and residents contributed differently to the virus gene pool at wintering wetlands. Migrants introduced virus from northern breeding grounds (Alaska and the NW Pacific Rim) into the wintering population, facilitating gene flow at continental scales, but circulation of imported virus appeared to be limited. In contrast, resident mallards acted as AIV reservoirs facilitating year-round circulation of limited subtypes (i.e. H5N2) at lower latitudes. This study supports a model of virus exchange in temperate regions driven by the convergence of wild birds with separate geographic origins and exposure histories.
Additional publication details
Migration strategy affects avian influenza dynamics in mallards (Anas platyrhynchos).