During our second period on Bird Island this year we have been helping our French friend and colleague, Dr Camille Lebarbenchon. Camille is a disease ecologist, specialising in viral pathogens found in seabirds of tropical islands. He is based at the University of Reunion. We first met at an Avian Influenza Symposium in Athens, Georgia, USA, (where Camille held a fellowship) where we both presented papers on avian influenza in wild birds and, by chance, we ended up sitting next to each other at the conference dinner. Subsequently, he obtained a position in Reunion, from where he began his seabird studies. These include investigations of viruses in Seychelles seabirds and he has worked on Bird Island each year since 2012.
His early studies, concentrating on avian influenza viruses (AIV), revealed that among western Indian Ocean seabirds, terns, and especially Lesser Noddies, harboured the widest range of varieties of IAV, and probably play the most significant role in the maintenance and dispersal of the viruses in the region. This might result from these terns’ sociality throughout the year: they breed in colonies with nests in close proximity, and during the non-breeding season they roost communally, in vast numbers on some islands. (Note that these seabirds have not been found to be infected by the now notorious AIV varieties H5N1, H5N6, H5N8 and H7N7 that have infected poultry and people in parts of the world).
Camille is continuing these studies of AIV but is also investigating other viruses carried by seabirds, including virus types that are carried and dispersed by tick parasites. The microbial world he is investigating is proving fascinating and we wish him well in his continuing work, hoping that we can continue to help with some of the fieldwork on Bird Island. There we undertake our own studies of the biology of some of its seabirds, currently especially their movements, which of course play a role in their ability to disperse viruses.