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Nature. 2007 Jun 7;447(7145):710-3. Epub 2007 May 16.

West Nile virus emergence and large-scale declines of North American bird populations.

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Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, National Zoological Park, Washington, DC 20008, USA.


Emerging infectious diseases present a formidable challenge to the conservation of native species in the twenty-first century. Diseases caused by introduced pathogens have had large impacts on species abundances, including the American chestnut, Hawaiian bird species and many amphibians. Changes in host population sizes can lead to marked shifts in community composition and ecosystem functioning. However, identifying the impacts of an introduced disease and distinguishing it from other forces that influence population dynamics (for example, climate) is challenging and requires abundance data that extend before and after the introduction. Here we use 26 yr of Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data to determine the impact of West Nile virus (WNV) on 20 potential avian hosts across North America. We demonstrate significant changes in population trajectories for seven species from four families that concur with a priori predictions and the spatio-temporal intensity of pathogen transmission. The American crow population declined by up to 45% since WNV arrival, and only two of the seven species with documented impact recovered to pre-WNV levels by 2005. Our findings demonstrate the potential impacts of an invasive species on a diverse faunal assemblage across broad geographical scales, and underscore the complexity of subsequent community response.

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