Maintenance and dissemination of avian-origin influenza A virus within the northern Atlantic Flyway of North America

PLoS Pathog. 2022 Jun 6;18(6):e1010605. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1010605. eCollection 2022 Jun.


Wild waterbirds, the natural reservoirs for avian influenza viruses, undergo migratory movements each year, connecting breeding and wintering grounds within broad corridors known as flyways. In a continental or global view, the study of virus movements within and across flyways is important to understanding virus diversity, evolution, and movement. From 2015 to 2017, we sampled waterfowl from breeding (Maine) and wintering (Maryland) areas within the Atlantic Flyway (AF) along the east coast of North America to investigate the spatio-temporal trends in persistence and spread of influenza A viruses (IAV). We isolated 109 IAVs from 1,821 cloacal / oropharyngeal samples targeting mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and American black ducks (Anas rubripes), two species having ecological and conservation importance in the flyway that are also host reservoirs of IAV. Isolates with >99% nucleotide similarity at all gene segments were found between eight pairs of birds in the northern site across years, indicating some degree of stability among genome constellations and the possibility of environmental persistence. No movement of whole genome constellations were identified between the two parts of the flyway, however, virus gene flow between the northern and southern study locations was evident. Examination of banding records indicate direct migratory waterfowl movements between the two locations within an annual season, providing a mechanism for the inferred viral gene flow. Bayesian phylogenetic analyses provided evidence for virus dissemination from other North American wild birds to AF dabbling ducks (Anatinae), shorebirds (Charidriformes), and poultry (Galliformes). Evidence was found for virus dissemination from shorebirds to gulls (Laridae), and dabbling ducks to shorebirds and poultry. The findings from this study contribute to the understanding of IAV ecology in waterfowl within the AF.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Birds
  • Ducks
  • Influenza A virus* / genetics
  • Influenza in Birds*
  • North America
  • Phylogeny
  • Poultry