Short Communication


, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 540-545

First online:

Spatial Variation in an Avian Host Community: Implications for Disease Dynamics

  • Sarah L. StatesAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University Email author 
  • , Wesley M. HochachkaAffiliated withLaboratory of Ornithology, Cornell University
  • , André A. DhondtAffiliated withLaboratory of Ornithology, Cornell University

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Because many pathogens can infect multiple host species within a community, disease dynamics in a focal host species can be affected by the composition of the host community. We examine the extent to which spatial variation in species’ abundances in an avian host community may contribute to geographically varying prevalence of a recently emerged wildlife pathogen. Mycoplasma gallisepticum is a pathogen novel to songbirds that has caused substantial mortality in house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) in eastern North America. Though the house finch is the primary host species for M. gallisepticum, the American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) and northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) are alternate hosts, and laboratory experiments have demonstrated M. gallisepticum transmission between house finches and goldfinches. Still unknown is the real world impact on disease dynamics of variation in abundances of the three hosts. We analyzed data from winter-long bird and disease surveys in the northeastern United States. We found that higher disease prevalence in house finches was associated with higher numbers of northern cardinals and American goldfinches, although only the effect of cardinal abundance was statistically significant. Nevertheless, our results indicate that spatial variation in bird communities has the potential to cause geographic variation in disease prevalence in house finches.


Carpodacus mexicanus Spinus tristis Cardinalis cardinalis spatial autocorrelation Mycoplasma gallisepticum host–parasite dynamics