Climate & Environment

    Climate Change

Post-Doctoral Fellowships


How Will Climate Change Affect Bird-Spread Diseases

This research project is one of the 8 projects selected following the call for proposals on Health Impact of Climate Change.

Expected start date:Aug-2023

Human, animal, and environmental health are interconnected. Climate change may alter the transmissions of diseases that can spread from animals to humans, called zoonotic diseases. However, our understanding of how host and pathogen traits affect the distribution and diversity of diseases is lacking. Dr. Tamara Szentivanyi, AXA Fellow at the Hungary’s Institute of Ecology and Botany, aims to investigate this emerging public health risk by studying the presence and diversity of pathogen in different bird species vulnerable to climate change and uncover global patterns of avian-associated infection. Her project, combining fieldwork and laboratory analyses, will help create pathogen surveillance methods to monitor and prevent the spread of these diseases.

Birds are host to various pathogens, including viruses transmitted by arthropods (chiefly mosquitoes and ticks) or “arboviruses”, such as tick-borne encephalitis. Different bird species may have varying infection patterns due to their feeding habits, migratory behavior, and even light pollution, among other factors. Dr. Szentivanyi’s project will examine how vulnerable different bird species are to the effect of climate change regarding the presence and spread of arbovirus presence and diversity. For example, some bird species may be more vulnerable than others due to their dependence on specific habitats that are changing rapidly or because they have limited ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

By combining existing climate change vulnerability and infection data with genetic and blood samples collected at bird ringing stations, or the places where birds are caught, marked with a uniquely numbered tag around their leg, and then released back into the wild, her assessment will offer a fuller picture of pathogen spread and emergence beyond the influence of climatic variables like temperature and habitat type. This vulnerability assessment will help identify which bird species are most susceptible to the impact of climate change and lead to targeted conservation efforts to protect them.

Climate change may alter the birds’ movements and pathogen's migratory path, potentially expose new geographical areas and populations to diseases they haven’t encountered before, as seen with by the spread of the West Nile virus in the past two decades. Dr. Szentivanyi will examine how migratory behavior affects the introduction and spread of arboviruses in different bird species. By analyzing genomic data and tracking of the migration distance, direction, group size, and geographical distribution of tagged birds, the study aims to gain insights into how migratory behavior influences disease transmission.

Dr. Szentivanyi’s research will investigate potential hosts of avian arboviruses, including local fauna and migratory populations, to study their ability to infect vectors. She aims to identify important reservoir species and predict pathogen range across potential hosts, including less common bird species. She will also develop a framework for targeted pathogen surveillance that could facilitate detection and prevent potential outbreaks, which can be applied to other host-pathogen systems, such as mammalian-virus co-occurrence. Overall, her study aims to improve our understanding of how avian arboviruses spread and contribute to the development of better disease surveillance and prevention strategies.

April 2023



Center for Ecological Research