Flyway networks: connecting pathogens to new hosts in far away lands
The East Asia – Australasian Flyway connects Northern Siberia and Alaska to Southern Australia and New Zealand, a region that encompasses 45% of the world's human population. Through this flyway million of birds pass through each year to full-fill their annual migratory cycle, ignoring major barriers such as mountain ranges, rivers, and oceans.
Tucked away in their feathers, in their blood-stream and lungs, and in their guts, are countless diseases and parasites in search of a happier more naïve host in some distant land. In spite of the incredible potential for migratory birds to disperse diseases, we still know very little about how it happens (e.g., which bird species are most likely to carry diseases?), and if it is possible to predict how diseases would flow through the flyway network. Diseases such as West Nile virus, and H1N1 influenza are devastating, but rare. Understanding the dynamics of a system through rare occurrences is nearly impossible, and all together undesirable.
Bird malaria, while devastating to naïve populations, is relatively common across the East Asia – Australasian Flyway. Our goal is to build bird malaria as a model to understand pathogen movement across bird migratory flyways. To build this model, we will build knowledge on how birds fight parasites through behaviour, physiology, and immunity, how pathogens evade host immunity through clever genomic re-arrangements, and how vectors broker interactions between host and parasites. To address these aspects, our team includes Dr. John Ewen (ZSL), Dr. Jonathan Keith (School of Mathematical Sciences), Dr. Jean-Bernard Duchemin (CSIRO – Ecosystem Sciences), and Dr. Paul Sunnucks (School of Biological Sciences).