Reconstructing an annual cycle of interaction: natural infection and antibody dynamics to avian influenza along a migratory flyway


B. J. Hoye, Dept of Animal Ecology, Netherlands Inst. of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), Rijksstraatweg 6, NL–3631 AC Nieuwersluis, the Netherlands. E-mail:


Migratory animals may play an important role in connecting disparate ecosystems, including the introduction of various pathogens. The incidence of these pathogens may vary over time and space, such that events along the entire migratory flyway are likely to be important in the interaction between pathogens and their migratory hosts. On this premise, the annual cycle of a naturally occurring host–pathogen system was reconstructed by examining infection with and antibodies to avian influenza virus along the flyway of a long-distance Arctic migrant, the Svalbard-breeding pink-footed goose Anser brachyrhynchus. A highly-localized transmission period was identified in winter, in contrast to the north–south decline expected from dabbling ducks, indicating the dynamics of infection may differ among host species. In spring, 63% (95% CI: 57.1, 68.9) of adults had detectable antibodies to the nucleoprotein of avian influenza virus, compared to just 15% (95% CI: 8.7, 23.4) of juveniles, suggesting inter-annual antibody maintenance. Nevertheless, adult seroprevalence declined by approximately 30% from spring to late summer, indicating significant seroreversion in the population. Integrating these findings in an epidemiological model, detectable antibodies to nucleoprotein were estimated to persist for just 343 days (95% CI: 221, 607); considerably shorter than for other wildlife diseases in long-lived bird species. The investigation of wildlife diseases in migratory populations is an inherently complex task, yet, by integrating disease incidence and seroprevalence along a migratory flyway, our findings suggest that the ecological interactions and life history of the host, as well as the life-history of the pathogen, can influence the dynamics of infection and host immune response.