Diversity among bird populations found to reduce threat of West Nile virus

Jun 25, 2008

A biologist and undergraduate student have discovered that what's good for an area's bird population is also good for people living nearby.

The research, by John P. Swaddle and Stavros E. Calos, published June 25 in the online peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE, indicates that areas which have a more diverse bird population (biodiversity) show much lower incidences of West Nile virus infection in the human population. West Nile develops rapidly in bird populations, and then can be passed to humans or other animals through a vector mechanism, often a mosquito.

Swaddle completed the work while a Sabbatical Fellow at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. NCEAS supports integrative research that synthesizes existing data, and makes these data and inferences available for management and policy applications.

Swaddle and Calos's research constitutes the largest-scale application to date of the "dilution effect", a pattern whereby increased biodiversity in wildlife results in lower risks of humans becoming infected by animal diseases. The dilution effect was first reported in Lyme disease, but Swaddle and Calos are the first to demonstrate the dilution effect in a disease that has bird hosts. Other infectious diseases of concern, such as avian flu and bubonic plague, Swaddle said, may fit the dilution effect as well.

"We don't yet know the precise mechanism that drives this pattern, but it's likely to be due to diverse areas having relatively few of the bird species that are particularly competent hosts and reservoirs for the virus," Swaddle said.

Host competence, he explains, refers to a set of qualities that make a particular species of bird best able to contract the disease and pass it on through a vector. The highest levels of host competence are found in crows, jays, thrushes and sparrows-the very birds that tend to thrive when avian biodiversity is reduced.

Swaddle, back in residence as associate professor at the College or William and Mary, points out some implications of his research. Very small changes in land management, he said, could attract more bird species, with the increase in biodiversity paying off in the form of lower human infection rates during outbreaks of West Nile or other diseases in the bird population.

"Biodiversity is giving us a public health service that people have rarely considered and the value of this service should be considered when developing land and managing bird populations in the future," Swaddle said.

Source: University of California - Santa Barbara

Explore further: Philippines boosts MERS monitoring after UAE nurse scare

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Android gains in US, basic phones almost extinct

4 hours ago

The Google Android platform grabbed the majority of mobile phones in the US market in early 2014, as consumers all but abandoned non-smartphone handsets, a survey showed Friday.

SpaceX launches supplies to space station (Update)

4 hours ago

The SpaceX company returned to orbit Friday, launching fresh supplies to the International Space Station after more than a month's delay and setting the stage for urgent spacewalking repairs.

Recommended for you

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

10 hours ago

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

US orders farms to report pig virus infections

Apr 18, 2014

The U.S. government is starting a new program to help monitor and possibly control the spread of a virus that has killed millions of pigs since showing up in the country last year.

Foreigner dies of MERS in Saudi

Apr 18, 2014

A foreigner has died after she contracted MERS in the Saudi capital, the health ministry said on announced Friday, bringing the nationwide death toll to 73.

Vietnam battles fatal measles outbreak

Apr 18, 2014

Vietnam is scrambling to contain a deadly outbreak of measles that has killed more than 100 people, mostly young children, and infected thousands more this year, the government said Friday.

New clues on tissue scarring in scleroderma

Apr 18, 2014

A discovery by Northwestern Medicine scientists could lead to potential new treatments for breaking the cycle of tissue scarring in people with scleroderma.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Study says we're over the hill at 24

(Medical Xpress)—It's a hard pill to swallow, but if you're over 24 years of age you've already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.