2012-05-08 | Press Release
Feather detectives at work
Wild ducks often carry influenza A viruses. Since 2002, researchers at Linnaeus University have studied how viruses are spread in nature by migrating ducks. But one question that has been difficult to answer is where different ducks come from. The researchers have recently been able to make considerable progress by studying the chemical composition in the birds’ feathers.
– Feathers are like our nails or hairs, says Jonas Waldenström, Associate Professor at Linnaeus University who has lead the project together with Associate Senior Lecturer Gunnar Gunnarsson at Kristianstad University. When feathers are fully grown, they are quite similar to dead tissue and the chemical content is preserved.
Certain chemical substances occur in different variations, so-called isotopes. The composition of isotopes varies between different geographical areas, because of differences in bedrock geology, or due to the amount of precipitation. As a result, the composition of isotopes in a bird’s feathers will depend on the environment the bird lived in during the time the feathers grew.
For a number of years, Jonas Waldenström and his colleagues collected small bits of tail feathers from wild mallards (Anas playrhynchos) in order to study the isotope composition. What they wanted to find out was if this was a valid method for detecting where the birds came from.
The results – which recently were published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE – show that Mallards trapped during migration at the Ottenby Bird Observatory in SE Sweden originated from the North East, primarily from Estonia, Finland, and NW Russia. Ducks that arrived later in autumn came from further east than ducks arriving in early autumn. The research team then continued by linking this knowledge about migration with information about the types of influenza virus the ducks were carrying.
– We can demonstrate that different duck populations carry different sets of influenza viruses during migration, says Jonas Waldenström. This is the first time we can link viruses to their place of origin, which allows us to better understand the epidemiology of the influenza A virus.
This study is a collaboration between researchers in Sweden (Linnaeus University and Kristianstad University), the Netherlands and Canada.
The study’s results are freely available on the website of the scientific journal PLoS ONE.
Jonas Waldenström and his research team are part of the top-level research centre Linnaeus University Centre for Ecology and Evolution in Microbial Model Systems. Read more about this group here.
Gunnar Gunnarsson works at Kristianstad University and specialises in duck ecology. Gunnar had a post-doctoral position at Linnaeus University, but has now returned to Kristianstad. Link to Gunnar Gunnarsson’s website
Contact Christina Dahlgren for a portrait picture of Jonas Waldenström.
Contacts for further information:
Jonas Waldenström, phone: +46 (0)70 2018218, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gunnar Gunnarsson, phone: +46 (0)73 6432333, e-mail: email@example.com
Christina Dahlgren, Press Officer, phone: +46 (0)70 5722656, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org