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Study: Bird diversity lessens human exposure to West Nile Virus
Date:10/6/2008

This one's for the birds.

A study by biologists at Washington University in St. Louis shows that the more diverse a bird population is in an area, the less chance humans have of exposure to West Nile Virus (WNV).

Now, let's hear it for the birds.

"The bottom line is that where there are more bird species in your backyard, you have much lower risk of contracting West Nile Fever," said Brian Allan, doctoral candidate in biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. "The mechanisms are similar to those described for the ecology of Lyme disease. Most birds are poor reservoirs for West Nile Virus, and so mosquito bites taken on them are 'wasted' from the perspective of the virus. Where many bird species exist, very few mosquitoes get infected, and so we humans are at low risk. A few bird species are highly competent reservoirs, and these tend to occur in urbanized and suburbanized areas where bird diversity suffers."

The most common 'reservoir' species that urbanites and suburbanites and even rural dwellers in heavily farmed landscapes see are crows, grackles, house finches, blue jays, sparrows and American robins, with the robin being the most prolific carrier of WNV. Robins are anthrophilic they love being around humans and it's relatively easy for mosquitoes to take their blood meals from them because robins feed so much on the ground.

Allan, his advisor Jonathan M. Chase, Ph.D., WUSTL associate professor of biology, and 14 collaborators from numerous institutions, published their findings in the forthcoming issue of Oecologia.

While diversity of bird species is important in this scenario, it doesn't tell the whole story.

"It's not just about the number, but their relative proportions," Allan said. "It's a combination of richness the number of species and evenness their relative proportions. In urban and suburban areas you see lower species richness and lower community evenness. For instan
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Contact: Brian Allan
ballan@wustl.edu
314-935-8466
Washington University in St. Louis
Source:Eurekalert

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