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Keywords:

  • Avian influenza;
  • ecological barriers;
  • evolution;
  • flyways;
  • gene flow;
  • phylogeography;
  • spatial distance

Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 24–33

Abstract

Despite the importance of migratory birds in the ecology and evolution of avian influenza virus (AIV), there is a lack of information on the patterns of AIV spread at the intra-continental scale. We applied a variety of statistical phylogeographic techniques to a plethora of viral genome sequence data to determine the strength, pattern and determinants of gene flow in AIV sampled from wild birds in North America. These analyses revealed a clear isolation-by-distance of AIV among sampling localities. In addition, we show that phylogeographic models incorporating information on the avian flyway of sampling proved a better fit to the observed sequence data than those specifying homogeneous or random rates of gene flow among localities. In sum, these data strongly suggest that the intra-continental spread of AIV by migratory birds is subject to major ecological barriers, including spatial distance and avian flyway.