Distinguished Research Professor
University of Georgia
Avian influenza viruses (AIVs) are considered a threat for their potential to seed human influenza pandemics. Despite their acknowledged importance, there are significant unknowns regarding AIV transmission dynamics in their natural hosts, wild birds. Of particular interest is the difference in subtype dynamics between human and bird populations-in human populations, typically only two or three subtypes cocirculate, while avian populations are capable of simultaneously hosting a multitude of subtypes. One species in particular-ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres)--has been found to harbour a very wide range of AIV subtypes, which could make them a key player in the spread of new subtypes in wild bird populations. Very little is known about the mechanisms that drive subtype dynamics in this species, and here we address this gap in our knowledge. Taking advantage of two independent sources of data collected from ruddy turnstones in Delaware Bay, USA, we examine patterns of subtype diversity and dominance at this site. We compare these patterns to those produced by a stochastic, multi-strain transmission model to investigate possible mechanisms that are parsimonious with the observed subtype dynamics. We find, in agreement with earlier experimental work, that subtype differences are unnecessary to replicate the observed dynamics, and that neutrality alone is sufficient. We also evaluate the role of subtype cross-immunity and find that it is not necessary to generate patterns consistent with observations. This work offers new insights into the mechanisms behind subtype diversity and dominance in a species that has the potential to be a key player in AIV dynamics in wild bird populations.