The impact of migratory flyways on the spread of avian influenza virus in North America

Publication Type:
Journal Article
BMC Evolutionary Biology, 2017, 17 (1)
Issue Date:
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© 2017 The Author(s). Background: Wild birds are the major reservoir hosts for influenza A viruses (AIVs) and have been implicated in the emergence of pandemic events in livestock and human populations. Understanding how AIVs spread within and across continents is therefore critical to the development of successful strategies to manage and reduce the impact of influenza outbreaks. In North America many bird species undergo seasonal migratory movements along a North-South axis, thereby providing opportunities for viruses to spread over long distances. However, the role played by such avian flyways in shaping the genetic structure of AIV populations remains uncertain. Results: To assess the relative contribution of bird migration along flyways to the genetic structure of AIV we performed a large-scale phylogeographic study of viruses sampled in the USA and Canada, involving the analysis of 3805 to 4505 sequences from 36 to 38 geographic localities depending on the gene segment data set. To assist in this we developed a maximum likelihood-based genetic algorithm to explore a wide range of complex spatial models, depicting a more complete picture of the migration network than determined previously. Conclusions: Based on phylogenies estimated from nucleotide sequence data sets, our results show that AIV migration rates are significantly higher within than between flyways, indicating that the migratory patterns of birds play a key role in viral dispersal. These findings provide valuable insights into the evolution, maintenance and transmission of AIVs, in turn allowing the development of improved programs for surveillance and risk assessment.
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