The Role of Avian Host Dynamics and Anthropogenic Stressors on the Transmission of West Nile Virus and the Implications for Human Health and Biodiversity

EPA Grant Number: R833778
Title: The Role of Avian Host Dynamics and Anthropogenic Stressors on the Transmission of West Nile Virus and the Implications for Human Health and Biodiversity
Investigators: Smith, Thomas B. , DeSante, David , Kelly, Jeffrey , Kramer, Laura D. , Layne, Scott , Saatchi, Sassan
Institution: University of California - Los Angeles , Institute for Bird Populations , Jet Propulsion Laboratory - Pasadena , The State University of New York at Albany , University of Oklahoma
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: November 1, 2007 through October 31, 2010
Project Amount: $749,296
RFA: An Interdisciplinary Approach To Examining The Links Between Social Stressors, Biodiversity And Human Health (2007) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Biodiversity , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration


We will examine the spatial and temporal patterns of West Nile Virus (WNV) in 10 Neotropical passerines and contrast samples from pre- and post-WNV occurrence to determine whether particular species have experienced population declines. Based on the prevalence across selected species, we will also determine whether particular taxa are acting as species-equivalents of WNV “superspreaders.” We will then determine the environmental correlates of infection using bioclimatic and satellite remote sensing data. Using recently developed distribution models (Maxent), we will map presence/prevalence of WNV in North America, and examine the effects of changes in climate on its distribution. We will explore the anthropogenic stressors associated with the presence of WNV. We will identify the possible correlates between geographical WNV hotspots and areas where anthropogenic activity has altered the environment, to best inform management decisions on how areas most likely to affect both human and bird populations might be identified, monitored, and controlled.

This project supports Goal 4 (Healthy Communities and Ecosystems), Objective 4.5 (Enhance Science and Research) and Sub-objective 4.5.2 (Conduct Relevant Research) of EPA’s Strategic Plan. This project’s characterization of the social and ecological factors affecting West Nile virus transmission (WNV) to birds and humans and development of a distribution model of WNV risk is consistent with Goal 4. Based on the model, which will also estimate the effects of anthropogenic changes on virus distribution and prevalence, we will provide guidance on the development of environmentally-based (non-chemical) strategies for integrated pest management (IPM) of the West Nile virus vector. As an example, land use and development guidance can be informed and designed to preserve certain animal habitats to help reduce disease risk while at the same time, enhance ecosystem health. These strategies may allow the reduction of pesticide use against vectors of public health importance, resulting in less chemical pollution to air, water, and land.


We will address these objectives by utilizing the unique bird feather repository at UCLA and through additional collections. Samples will be used to establish migratory connectivity for each of the target taxa using molecular markers (AFLPs) and stable isotopes. WNV infections carried by migratory bird populations will be determined via RT-PCR at a new high throughput laboratory at UCLA. Levels of infection will then be modeled by combining satellite remote sensing and bioclimatic data under various ecological conditions.

Expected Results:

Our multidisciplinary approach will allow for an understanding of how ecological changes affect arbovirus infection and distribution and help determine the impact of WNV on both host and human populations. By comparing models of predicted prevalence to actual changes in WNV transmission, we will document the role that migratory birds play in WNV transmission and the risk to human health. The interaction between WNV virus, vector, and host populations will serve as vital evidence to inform public health decisions and new integrated pest management approaches that include effective land-use management for vector control.

Supplemental Keywords:

West Nile virus, pathogens, ecological effects, migratory connectivity, bird populations, human health risk, epidemiology, modeling, biodiversity,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2008
  • 2009
  • Final