Reservoir hosts experiencing food stress alter transmission dynamics for a zoonotic pathogen


Food limitation is a universal stressor for wildlife populations and is increasingly exacerbated by human activities. Anthropogenic environmental change can significantly alter the availability and quality of food resources for reservoir hosts and impact host-pathogen interactions in the wild. The state of the host’s nutritional reserves at the time of infection is a key factor influencing infection outcomes by altering host resistance. Combining experimental and model-based approaches, we investigate how an environmental stressor affects host resistance to West Nile virus (WNV). Using American robins (Turdus migratorius), a species considered a superspreader of WNV, we tested the effect of acute food deprivation immediately prior to infection on host viraemia. Here, we show that robins food deprived for 48 h prior to infection, developed higher virus titres and were infectious longer than robins fed normally. To gain an understanding about the epidemiological significance of food-stressed hosts, we developed an agent-based model that simulates transmission dynamics of WNV between an avian host and the mosquito vector. When simulating a nutritionally stressed host population, the mosquito infection rate rose significantly, reaching levels that represent an epidemiological risk. An understanding of the infection disease dynamics in wild populations is critical to predict and mitigate zoonotic disease outbreaks.

In Proceedings of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences
Aniruddha Belsare
Aniruddha Belsare
Assistant Professor of Disease Ecology

My research interests include wildlife disease ecology, disease modeling and wildlife medicine.