Interspecific exchange of avian influenza virus genes in Alaska: the influence of trans-hemispheric migratory tendency and breeding ground sympatry


John M. Pearce, Fax: (907) 786 7020; E-mail:


The movement and transmission of avian influenza viral strains via wild migratory birds may vary by host species as a result of migratory tendency and sympatry with other infected individuals. To examine the roles of host migratory tendency and species sympatry on the movement of Eurasian low-pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) genes into North America, we characterized migratory patterns and LPAI viral genomic variation in mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) of Alaska in comparison with LPAI diversity of northern pintails (Anas acuta). A 50-year band-recovery data set suggests that unlike northern pintails, mallards rarely make trans-hemispheric migrations between Alaska and Eurasia. Concordantly, fewer (14.5%) of 62 LPAI isolates from mallards contained Eurasian gene segments compared to those from 97 northern pintails (35%), a species with greater inter-continental migratory tendency. Aerial survey and banding data suggest that mallards and northern pintails are largely sympatric throughout Alaska during the breeding season, promoting opportunities for interspecific transmission. Comparisons of full-genome isolates confirmed near-complete genetic homology (>99.5%) of seven viruses between mallards and northern pintails. This study found viral segments of Eurasian lineage at a higher frequency in mallards than previous studies, suggesting transmission from other avian species migrating inter-hemispherically or the common occurrence of endemic Alaskan viruses containing segments of Eurasian origin. We conclude that mallards are unlikely to transfer Asian-origin viruses directly to North America via Alaska but that they are likely infected with Asian-origin viruses via interspecific transfer from species with regular migrations to the Eastern Hemisphere.