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Proc Biol Sci. 2004 Dec 22;271(1557):2569-77.

Seasonality and wildlife disease: how seasonal birth, aggregation and variation in immunity affect the dynamics of Mycoplasma gallisepticum in house finches.

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  • 1Laboratory of Ornithology, Cornell University, 159 Sapsucker Woods Road, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA.


We examine the role of host seasonal breeding, host seasonal social aggregation and partial immunity in affecting wildlife disease dynamics, focusing on the dynamics of house finch conjunctivitis (Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG) in Carpodacus mexicanus). This case study of an unmanaged emerging infectious disease provides useful insight into the important role of seasonal factors in driving ongoing disease dynamics. Seasonal breeding can force recurrent epidemics through the input of fresh susceptibles, which will clearly affect a wide variety of wildlife disease dynamics. Seasonal patterns of social aggregation and foraging behaviour could change transmission dynamics. We use latitudinal variation in the timing of breeding, and social systems to model seasonal dynamics of house finch conjunctivitis across eastern North America. We quantify the patterns of seasonal breeding, and social aggregation across a latitudinal gradient in the eastern range of the house finch, supplemented with known field and laboratory information on immunity to MG in finches. We then examine the interactions of these factors in a theoretical model of disease dynamics. We find that both forms of seasonality could explain the dynamics of the house finch-MG system, and that these factors could have important effects on the dynamics of wildlife diseases generally. In particular, while either alone is sufficient to create recurrent cycles of prevalence in a population with an endemic disease, both are required to produce the specific semi-annual pattern of disease prevalence seen in the house finch conjunctivitis system.

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