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Use of Stable Isotopes to Trace Bird Migrations and Molecular Nuclear Techniques to Investigate the Epidemiology and Ecology of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (D32030)

Success story

Red-Breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis).

Influenza is one of the most common infectious diseases in animals and humans and is divided into three genera. Influenza B and C are mostly human pathogens whereas Influenza A (avian influenza) can occur in both humans and domestic animals, poultry and wild waterfowl (WWF).

Wild waterfowl can harbour avian influenza and transmit it via the shredding of the virus and faecal contamination of the water. Therefore, it is important to have knowledge of their place of origin and intermediate stages of migration between breeding and non-breeding areas meaning satellite positioning, geo-locators or external markers are no longer enough.

A new technique based on stable isotope ratios (SI) in tissues of birds, especially in metabolically inert tissues such as feathers, helps. Certain SIs are involved in important biological and ecological processes, and there is a strong correlation between the content of these SIs in the environment and the concentration of the same SIs in bird tissues.

The analysis of stool samples for simultaneous detection of bird species and carrier status of birds by non-invasive analysis of stool samples may establish the epidemiological link between migration pathways (obtained by SIs in feathers) and the transmission of the virus to a geographical area.

DNA barcoding may be used to determine species from stool and feather samples taken, however, it has been optimized under this CRP.

By combining the above techniques, it is possible to determine the AIV carrier status and species (DNA barcoding plus AIV presence in the faeces) as well as the type of randomly collected feathers and the origin of the specific wild waterfowl.

CRP Overall Objective

  1. Evaluate the potential of precipitation deuterium isoscapes based on the IAEA GNIP program for determining origin of waterfowl in Africa/Asia by calibrating this isoscape with feathers (and potentially claws) grown at known origins.
  2. Utilize species-specific telemetry and other marking data to identify waterfowl flyways including stopover, breeding, non-breeding and moult locations in Africa/Asia and use these data to inform isotopic sampling strategies.
  3. Evaluate tissues from waterfowl (feather, blood and claws) samples previously collected and identify key samples for isotope analysis to support objectives 1 and 2.
  4. Evaluate the implementation of non-invasive methods for AI surveillance in WWF, based on simultaneous DNA barcoding and detection of the AIV in faecal samples.
  5. Evaluate the level of eventual contamination and the risk of AIV transmission in WWF via natural water reservoirs.

Specific Research Objectives

  1. Determine the potential use of stable isotope analysis in tracing migratory pathways of wild water fowl;
  2. Improve the existing isoscapes for δD and other essential isotopes, especially in the regions of Asia and Africa;
  3. Develop validated SOP for DNA barcoding for differentiation of WWF species using fecal samples;
  4. Develop validated SOPs for detection and typing of the AIV in WWF using fecal samples;
  5. Develop validate SOPs for detection and quantitative evaluation of the AIV in natural water reservoirs.


Understanding the geographical hotspots for possible entry, seasonality and the most probable carrier species will enable specific adjustments of the national disease monitoring programmes and the contingency plans and enable for timely application of bio-safety / bio-security measures in the field aimed on minimizing risks for animal and public health.


The relevance of the CRP subject is in the development and application of tools for tracing long range migrations of WWF and its linkages to the transmission and epidemiology of the AIV at national, regional and global levels.

Participating countries

Bulgaria, Canada, China, Egypt, Germany, Korea (Republic of), Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkey United Kingdom.

For further information related to this CRP, please see the CRP page.

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