Mallard with GPS receivers

Project: Ducks and disease: waterfowl migration and transmission of avian influenza virus

In recent years, an increasing number of outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus have been recorded in Europe. It is believed that migrating waterfowl, especially dabbling ducks, contribute to the incursions of these viruses to Europe. Outbreaks cause high economic losses in the poultry sector and pose a risk of zoonotic infection in people, as well as causing mortality in wild bird populations. In this project we combine movement ecology and virus epidemiology to elucidate the role wild waterfowl have on influenza virus transmission on local, regional and intra-continental scales.

Facts about the project

Project manager
Jonas Waldenström
Other project members at Linnaeus University
Mariëlle van Toor
Participating organizations
Linnaeus University, A collaborative network of duck and virus researchers in Europe, Africa and Asia including IUCN Bangladesh
European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 727922 (Delta-Flu); Swedish Research Council VR (2018-03841)
Ongoing. 2017-2022
Ecology (Department of Biology and Environmental Science, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences)
Research group
Zoonotic Ecology and Epidemiology

Logo: Horizon 2020 programme of the Europeian Union

More about the project

In seasonal environments, many animals adapt to changing conditions by migrating to areas that provide more suitable conditions during winter. The massive movement of animals also provides a regular means for microorganisms to hitchhike, potentially being transported to new areas and new hosts. Among bird-borne pathogens, the influenza A virus is the most renowned. The main reservoir for the virus is constituted by waterfowl, particularly dabbling ducks of the genus Anas - which include common species such as mallard and common teal. In these species, the virus occurs mainly as mild infections of so-called low-pathogenic avian influenza, normally abbreviated as LPAI viruses. These viruses are common in dabbling ducks, and occur with a pronounced seasonal pattern with prevalence peaking in autumn when the populations are supplemented by immunologically naïve juveniles.

However, some LPAI viruses can develop into a highly pathogenic variant of avian influenza, denoted HPAI. This virus variant is highly lethal for poultry and cause massive economic losses for the industry, and also poses a risk for zoonotic infection. The most widespread HPAI virus is H5N1, and later reassortants of this virus, which have caused outbreaks in wild and domestic birds in Asia, Europe, Africa and North America. An outstanding question in the epidemiology for this and related viruses is to understand how the migration of waterfowl - both long- and short-distance - contributes to maintaining it in circulation, and how local movements shape the interface between wild birds and domestic poultry.

In this project, we use remote animal telemetry to study the movement processes of migratory ducks in high resolution and great detail. We track ducks of multiple species and from multiple populations in Europe, Asia and Africa continually over extended periods of time to get a better understanding of dabbling duck migration and movements. By combining ring recovery data, movement data from telemetry and virus epidemiology we build models of migratory connectivity and the risk for virus dissemination at various spatial scale.

The project is part of the research in the research group Zoonotic Ecology and Epidemiology and in Linnaeus University Centre for Ecology and Evolution in Microbial model Systems (EEMiS).