Ecological determinants of American crow mortality due to West Nile virus during its North American sweep
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- Koenig, W.D., Hochachka, W.M., Zuckerberg, B. et al. Oecologia (2010) 163: 903. doi:10.1007/s00442-010-1627-z
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We examined the ecological factors influencing population declines in American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) as they were initially exposed to West Nile virus (WNV), a pathogen first detected in the US in 1999 that has since become one of North America’s most prevalent vector-borne pathogens. The strongest effects were initial crow population density (denser populations were more likely to suffer declines), avian species diversity (populations in areas with high diversity were less likely to suffer a decline), human population density (populations were more likely to decline in more urban areas), and time since the pathogen’s introduction to the US (populations exposed to the pathogen later in its North American sweep were less likely to suffer declines than those exposed earlier). Variables that played only a minor role included rainfall, mean maximum temperature, and total number of birds, used as a proxy for the overall reservoir competence of the community. These findings indicate that WNV declined in virulence during its rapid 5-year sweep and support the importance of the ‘dilution effect’ whereby a diverse host community dampens pathogen transmission and potentially slows its rate of spread. Results underscore the need for considering the entire community when trying to understand the factors shaping disease risk.