U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Published in Oecologia (2009) 158:699–708.


West Nile virus, which was recently introduced to North America, is a mosquito-borne pathogen that infects a wide range of vertebrate hosts, including humans. Several species of birds appear to be the primary reservoir hosts, whereas other bird species, as well as other vertebrate species, can be infected but are less competent reservoirs. One hypothesis regarding the transmission dynamics of West Nile virus suggests that high bird diversity reduces West Nile virus transmission because mosquito blood-meals are distributed across a wide range of bird species, many of which have low reservoir competence. One mechanism by which this hypothesis can operate is that high-diversity bird communities might have lower community-competence, defined as the sum of the product of each species’ abundance and its reservoir competence index value. Additional hypotheses posit that West Nile virus transmission will be reduced when either: (1) abundance of mosquito vectors is low; or (2) human population density is low. We assessed these hypotheses at two spatial scales: a regional scale near Saint Louis, MO, and a national scale (continental USA). We found that prevalence of West Nile virus infection in mosquito vectors and in humans increased with decreasing bird diversity and with increasing reservoir competence of the bird community. Our results suggest that conservation of avian diversity might help ameliorate the current West Nile virus epidemic in the USA.