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Open Access Open Badges Research

Avian roosting behavior influences vector-host interactions for West Nile virus hosts

William M Janousek13*, Peter P Marra2 and A Marm Kilpatrick1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz, California 95064, USA

2 Migratory Bird Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological Park, Washington, DC 20008, USA

3 Current address: Avian Science Center, Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana 59802, USA

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Parasites & Vectors 2014, 7:399  doi:10.1186/1756-3305-7-399

Published: 28 August 2014



Extensive work has shown that vectors almost never feed at random. Often, a subset of individual hosts and host species are fed on much more frequently than expected from their abundance and this can amplify pathogen transmission. However, the drivers of variation in contact patterns between vectors and their hosts are not well understood, even in relatively well-studied systems such as West Nile virus (WNV).


We compared roosting height and roost aggregation size of seven avian host species of WNV with patterns of host-seeking mosquito (Culex pipiens) abundance at communal and non-communal roost sites.


First, host-seeking mosquito abundance increased with height and paralleled increased mosquito feeding preferences on species roosting higher in the tree canopy. Second, there were several hundred-fold fewer mosquitoes per bird trapped at American robin (Turdus migratorius) communal roosts compared to non-communal roost sites, which could reduce transmission from and to this key amplifying host species. Third, seasonal changes in communal roost formation may partly explain observed seasonal changes in mosquito feeding patterns, including a decrease in feeding on communal roosting robins.


These results illustrate how variation in habitat use by hosts and vectors and social aggregation by hosts influence vector-host interactions and link the behavioral ecology of birds and the transmission of vector-borne diseases to humans.

Sociality; Group size; Vector-host contact rates; Vector:host ratio; Model; Flocking; Fitness; Evolution