Dynamics and ecological consequences of avian influenza virus infection in greater white-fronted geese in their winter staging areas
Recent outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in poultry have raised interest in the interplay between avian influenza (AI) viruses and their wild hosts. Studies linking virus ecology to host ecology are still scarce, particularly for non-duck species. Here, we link capture-resighting data of greater white-fronted geese Anser albifrons albifrons with the AI virus infection data collected during capture in The Netherlands in four consecutive winters. We ask what factors are related to AI virus prevalence and whether there are ecological consequences associated with AI virus infection in staging white-fronted geese. Mean seasonal (low pathogenic) AI virus prevalence ranged between 2.5 and 10.7 per cent, among the highest reported values for non-duck species, and occurred in distinct peaks with near-zero prevalence before and after. Throat samples had a 2.4 times higher detection frequency than cloacal samples. AI virus infection was significantly related to age and body mass in some but not other winters. AI virus infection was not related to resighting probability, nor to maximum distance travelled, which was at least 191 km during the short infectious lifespan of an AI virus. Our results suggest that transmission via the respiratory route could be an important transmission route of AI virus in this species. Nearzero prevalence upon arrival on their wintering grounds, in combination with the epidemic nature of AI virus infections in white-fronted geese, suggests that white-fronted geese are not likely to disperse Asian AI viruses from their Siberian breeding grounds to their European wintering areas.