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Prey-processing by avian predators enhances virus transmission in the gypsy moth


J. R. Reilly, Dept of Entomology, Cornell Univ., Comstock Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA. E-mail:


The Lymantria dispar nucleopolyhedrovirus (LdNPV) is one of the most important regulators of gypsy moth populations, but some aspects of its transmission remain poorly understood, particularly its high rate of spatial spread and ability to persist in low-density populations. We tested the role of predatory birds in the transmission of this virus using experimental gypsy moth populations in an aviary. Predatory birds captured virus-infected caterpillars and facilitated viral dispersal via two processes: 1) by ingesting infected caterpillars and passing viral occlusion bodies (OBs) through their guts, and 2) by scattering OBs during predator-specific processing behaviors, a mechanism documented here for the first time. The relative importance of both pathways differed by predator species. After eating virus-infected gypsy moth larvae, red-eyed vireos and black-capped chickadees passed more gypsy moth nucleopolyhedrovirus in feces than did gray catbirds. During prey-processing, the repetitive beating of caterpillars by red-eyed vireos, a behavior that was rarely utilized by chickadees and catbirds, resulted in the scattering of infectious virus. Due to the combination of efficient gut passage and virus spread from prey beating, higher rates of transmission occurred in experimental gypsy moth populations exposed to red-eyed vireos than those exposed to catbirds or chickadees. Our results show that effective virus transmission was achieved when virus was vectored by predatory birds through a combination of both behavioral and physiological traits.