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Wild Bird Movements and Avian Influenza Risk Mapping in Southern Africa

Keywords: anatidae , avian influenza , Botswana , ducks , influenza , landscape ecology , Namibia , pathogen , South Africa , virus , waterfowl , Zimbabwe.

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Global analyses of the potential for avian influenza transmission by wild birds have ignored key characteristics of the southern African avifauna. Although southern Africa hosts a variety of migratory, Holarctic-breeding wading birds and shorebirds, the documented prevalence of avian influenza in these species is low. The primary natural carriers of influenza viruses in the northern hemisphere are the anatids, i.e., ducks. In contrast to Palearctic-breeding species, most southern African anatids do not undertake predictable annual migrations and do not follow migratory flyways. Here we present a simple, spatially explicit risk analysis for avian influenza transmission by wild ducks in southern Africa. We developed a risk value for each of 16 southern African anatid species and summed risk estimates at a quarter-degree cell resolution for the entire subregion using data from the Southern African Bird Atlas. We then quantified environmental risks for South Africa at the same resolution. Combining these two risk values produced a simple risk map for avian influenza in South Africa, based on the best currently available data. The areas with the highest risk values were those near the two largest cities, Johannesburg and Cape Town, although parts of Kwazulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape also had high-risk scores. Our approach is simple, but has the virtue that it could be readily applied in other relatively low-data areas in which similar assessments are needed; and it provides a first quantitative assessment for decision makers in the subregion.


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