Deposition of pathogenic Mycoplasma gallisepticum onto bird feeders: Host pathology is more important than temperature-driven increases in food intake


Although ambient temperature has diverse effects on disease dynamics, few studies have examined howtemperature alters pathogen transmission by changing host physiology or behaviour. Here, we test whether reducing ambient temperature alters host foraging, pathology and the potential for fomite transmission of the bacterial pathogen Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG), which causes seasonal outbreaks of severe conjunctivitis in house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus). We housed finches at temperatures within or below the thermoneutral zone to manipulate food intake by altering energetic requirements of thermoregulation. We predicted that pathogen deposition on bird feeders would increase with temperature-driven increases in food intake and with conjunctival pathology. As expected, housing birds below the thermoneutral zone increased food consumption. Despite this difference, pathogen deposition on feeders did not vary across temperature treatments. However, pathogen deposition increased with conjunctival pathology, independently of temperature and pathogen load, suggesting that MG could enhance its transmission by increasing virulence. Our results suggest that in this system, host physiological responses are more important for transmission potential than temperaturedependent alterations in feeding. Understanding such behavioural and physiological contributions to disease transmission is critical to linking individual responses to climate with population-level disease dynamics.

Publication Title

Biology Letters