ABSTRACT

Eastern populations of Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) have been in a decades-long decline across the mid-Atlantic and southern Appalachian Mountains of the US. West Nile virus (WNV), which first arrived in the US in 1999, is suspected to have contributed to these declines based on decreased population indices since the arrival of WNV in Pennsylvania as well as on high, experimentally induced WNV-associated morbidity rates. A 3-yr statewide survey was conducted across Pennsylvania to measure flavivirus (i.e., WNV) seroprevalence among hunter-harvested grouse. The overall seroprevalence from 2015–17 was 14.4% (81/563); annual seroprevalence ranged from 2.8% (4/145) in the 2017 hunt year to 22.6% (52/230) in 2016–17. We analyzed the effects of numerous variables (i.e., Ruffed Grouse age and sex, hunt year, WNV vector index [VI], and region of Pennsylvania) on WNV serostatus by logistic regression. While there was no significant difference in WNV seroprevalence between sex and age group, there was significant variation in seroprevalence between geographic regions of Pennsylvania and across hunt years. Additionally, there was a negative correlation between WNV seroprevalence and VI. Low seroprevalence rates among Ruffed Grouse corresponded to years with a high VI, supporting experimental findings that Ruffed Grouse may be highly susceptible to WNV-associated disease. Additional strategic research efforts are essential to more effectively measure the effects of WNV on Ruffed Grouse and other vulnerable avian species.

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