Can eBird Serve as an Adequate Surrogate for Field Observations in Assessing the Prevalence of Virally Competent Avian Hosts for West Nile Virus?
West Nile virus is a pathogen of concern within Montana. Due to the potential ramifications associated with the contraction of this disease, assessing risks remain significant in ongoing research. Prior evidence indicates that the prevalence of this pathogen is dependent on viral amplification between virally competent host species and mosquito vectors. Specifically, avian species with moderate to high competence can serve as biotic reservoirs for the virus, allowing the continuation of infection in succeeding years. Along with other influential factors, the knowledge of which bird species predominate specific locations can help in providing the general public with a viable forecast, indicating the probable presence of the virus. While comprehensive bird counts across the state remain impractical, Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology may have solved problematic data collection through eBird. This online database allows users to record bird observations with the hope to provide scientists with real-time information of avian distribution and abundance. To evaluate the credibility of the software application, this study aims to determine if eBird data can serve as an adequate surrogate for field observations. Fifteen-minute bird point surveys were conducted to test eBird’s legitimacy; these surveys were located at the same sites in which mosquito trapping occurred. A regression analysis was then performed to distinguish potential correlations between field surveys and data provided from eBird at the same locations. Preliminary analyses suggest significant correlation between the datasets. This indicates that eBird could be implemented with confidence as an assessment of viral reservoirs.