Poyang Lake is situated within the East Asian Flyway, a migratory corridor for waterfowl that also encompasses Guangdong Province, China, the epicenter of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1. The lake is the largest freshwater body in China and a significant congregation site for waterfowl; however, surrounding rice fields and poultry grazing have created an overlap with wild waterbirds, a situation conducive to avian influenza transmission. Reports of HPAI H5N1 in healthy wild ducks at Poyang Lake have raised concerns about the potential of resilient free-ranging birds to disseminate the virus. Yet the role wild ducks play in connecting regions of HPAI H5N1 outbreak in Asia is hindered by a lack of information about their migratory ecology. During 2007–08 we marked wild ducks at Poyang Lake with satellite transmitters to examine the location and timing of spring migration and identify any spatiotemporal relationship with HPAI H5N1 outbreaks. Species included the Eurasian wigeon (Anas penelope), northern pintail (Anas acuta), common teal (Anas crecca), falcated teal (Anas falcata), Baikal teal (Anas formosa), mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), garganey (Anas querquedula), and Chinese spotbill (Anas poecilohyncha). These wild ducks (excluding the resident mallard and Chinese spotbill ducks) followed the East Asian Flyway along the coast to breeding areas in northern China, eastern Mongolia, and eastern Russia. None migrated west toward Qinghai Lake (site of the largest wild bird epizootic), thus failing to demonstrate any migratory connection to the Central Asian Flyway. A newly developed Brownian bridge spatial analysis indicated that HPAI H5N1 outbreaks reported in the flyway were related to latitude and poultry density but not to the core migration corridor or to wetland habitats. Also, we found a temporal mismatch between timing of outbreaks and wild duck movements. These analyses depend on complete or representative reporting of outbreaks, but by documenting movements of wild waterfowl, we present ecological knowledge that better informs epidemiological investigations seeking to explain and predict the spread of avian influenza viruses.
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Vol. 54 • No. s1