The role of disease in regulating populations is controversial, partly owing to the absence of good disease records in historic wildlife populations. We examined birds collected in the Galapagos Islands between 1891 and 1906 that are currently held at the California Academy of Sciences and the Zoologisches Staatssammlung Muenchen, including 3973 specimensrepresenting species from two well-studied families of endemic passerine birds: finches and mockingbirds. Beginning with samples collected in 1899, we observed cutaneous lesions consistent with Avipoxvirus on 226 (6.3%) specimens. Histopathology and viral genotyping of 59 candidate tissue samples from six islands showed that 21 (35.6%) were positive for Avipoxvirus, while alternative diagnoses for some of those testing negative by both methods were feather follicle cysts, non-specific dermatitis, or post mortem fungal colonization. Positive specimens were significantly nonrandomly distributed among islands both for mockingbirds (San Cristobal vs. Espanola, Santa Fe and Santa Cruz) and for finches (San Cristobal and Isabela vs. Santa Cruz and Floreana), and overall highly significantly distributed toward islands that were inhabited by humans (San Cristobal, Isabela, Floreana) vs. uninhabited at the time of collection (Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, Espanola), with only one positive individual on an uninhabited island. Eleven of the positive specimens sequenced successfully were identical at four diagnostic sites to the two canarypox variants previously described in contemporary Galapagos passerines. We conclude that this virus was introduced late in 18909s and was dispersed among islands by a variety of mechanisms, including regular human movements among colonized islands. At present, this disease represents an ongoing threat to the birds on the Galapagos Islands.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)