Epidemiology of the emergent disease Paridae pox in an intensively studied wild bird population.
Lachish S., Lawson B., Cunningham AA., Sheldon BC.
Paridae pox, a novel avipoxvirus infection, has recently been identified as an emerging infectious disease affecting wild tit species in Great Britain. The incursion of Paridae pox to a long-term study site where populations of wild tits have been monitored in detail for several decades provided a unique opportunity to obtain information on the local-scale epidemiological characteristics of this novel infection during a disease outbreak. Using captures of >8000 individual birds, we show that, within two years of initial emergence, Paridae pox had become established within the population of great tits (Parus major) reaching relatively high peak prevalence (10%), but was far less prevalent (<1%) in sympatric populations of several other closely related, abundant Paridae species. Nonlinear smoothing models revealed that the temporal pattern of prevalence among great tits was characterised by within-year fluctuations indicative of seasonal forcing of infection rates, which was likely driven by multiple environmental and demographic factors. There was individual heterogeneity in the course of infection and, although recovery was possible, diseased individuals were far less likely to be recaptured than healthy individuals, suggesting a survival cost of infection. This study demonstrates the value of long-term monitoring for obtaining key epidemiological data necessary to understand disease dynamics, spread and persistence in natural populations.