Reassortment and Persistence of Influenza A Viruses from Diverse Geographic Origins within Australian Wild Birds: Evidence from a Small, Isolated Population of Ruddy Turnstones

Bethany J. Hoye, Celeste M. Donato, Simeon Lisovski, Yi Mo Deng, Simone Warner, Aeron C. Hurt, Marcel Klaassen, Dhanasekaran Vijaykrishna

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Australian lineages of avian influenza A viruses (AIVs) are thought to be phylogenetically distinct from those circulating in Eurasia and the Americas, suggesting the circulation of endemic viruses seeded by occasional introductions from other regions. However, processes underlying the introduction, evolution and maintenance of AIVs in Australia remain poorly understood. Waders (order Charadriiformes, family Scolopacidae) may play a unique role in the ecology and evolution of AIVs, particularly in Australia, where ducks, geese, and swans (order Anseriformes, family Anatidae) rarely undertake intercontinental migrations. Across a 5-year surveillance period (2011 to 2015), ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres) that “overwinter” during the Austral summer in southeastern Australia showed generally low levels of AIV prevalence (0 to 2%). However, in March 2014, we detected AIVs in 32% (95% confidence interval [CI], 25 to 39%) of individuals in a small, low-density, island population 90 km from the Australian mainland. This epizootic comprised three distinct AIV genotypes, each of which represent a unique reassortment of Australian-, recently introduced Eurasian-, and recently introduced American-lineage gene segments. Strikingly, the Australian-lineage gene segments showed high similarity to those of H10N7 viruses isolated in 2010 and 2012 from poultry outbreaks 900 to 1,500 km to the north. Together with the diverse geographic origins of the American and Eurasian gene segments, these findings suggest extensive circulation and reassortment of AIVs within Australian wild birds over vast geographic distances. Our findings indicate that long-term surveillance in waders may yield unique insights into AIV gene flow, especially in geographic regions like Oceania, where Anatidae species do not display regular inter- or intracontinental migration. IMPORTANCE High prevalence of avian influenza viruses (AIVs) was detected in a small, low-density, isolated population of ruddy turnstones in Australia. Analysis of these viruses revealed relatively recent introductions of viral gene segments from both Eurasia and North America, as well as long-term persistence of introduced gene segments in Australian wild birds. These data demonstrate that the flow of viruses into Australia may be more common than initially thought and that, once introduced, these AIVs have the potential to be maintained within the continent. These findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that Australian wild birds are unlikely to be ecologically isolated from the highly pathogenic H5Nx viruses circulating among wild birds throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02193-20
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • Avian influenza virus
  • Charadriiformes
  • East Asian-Australasian Flyway
  • Reassortant viruses
  • Shorebirds
  • Whole-genome sequencing
  • Wild bird surveillance

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