Does Increased Bird Diversity Protect Humans Against West Nile Virus?
West Nile virus (WNV) is one of several emerging bird diseases that affect human populations. World-wide, WNV has caused thousands of fatalities and billions of dollars are spent in monitoring, prevention, and treatment programs. As relatively few bird species are effective hosts for the virus to replicate and build to dangerous levels, ecologists predict that when these types of species are few and far between humans should be at lower risk. One way of ensuring that these effective bird host species are at relatively low numbers is to increase the numbers of all other species. Therefore, we predict that humans should be at lower risk of contracting WNV when there are more bird species within an area. In other words, increased bird diversity (more species) should help buffer humans against WNV. I will test this prediction by comparing the rates of human disease with large surveys of bird species, throughout the Eastern US-where West Nile has been for several years. I hypothesize that management and conservation of bird diversity can be an effective public health strategy and could protect us against other bird-derived diseases, such as avian flu.
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