Forecasting infectious disease risks in Indiana and beyond: What role do migratory birds play?

Using birds to predict disease dynamics

Alex Jahn outfits a bird with a GPS tracker to study its migration patterns. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

Environmental changes such as climatic shifts and urban development are limiting the migratory patterns of birds globally. Because birds are reservoirs for infectious pathogens that can be passed from wildlife to humans, such as Lyme disease, reduced migration by birds in urban habitats could dramatically alter disease dynamics and spillover risk to humans.

A team led by ERI Fellow Alex Jahn and postdoctoral researcher Daniel Becker is partnering with researchers in the IU School of Public Health to study the migratory patterns and health of American robins across urban-rural gradients in Indiana. 

For multiple bird populations, the team will quantify migratory behavior, survival, pathogen exposure, immune defense, infection status, and the ability to infect ticks throughout the annual cycle. The researchers will then integrate these data into a mathematical model of bird migration, urbanization, and Lyme disease to understand and forecast how future urbanization and changes to bird migration will affect health risks to both wildlife and humans.