West Nile virus hitting bird populations hard, says new study

The West Nile virus soldiers on, declares a report published yesterday in Nature. Eight years after the virus left the West Nile and made its way to the U.S. Northeast, chickadee populations in the region have dropped 53 percent, while Eastern bluebird populations have been diminished by 44 percent. American crows have been hit the hardest, being wiped out entirely in some small regions. According to ecologist Carsten Rahbek, the trend “suggests that West Nile virus could potentially change the composition of bird communities across the entire continent” — which, of course, could affect not just birds, but the whole food chain. The virus has sickened more than 23,000 Americans and killed nearly 1,000 since 1999. And speaking of that, a different study published recently in Nature suggests that depletion of ecosystems increases the likelihood that diseases like West Nile and Ebola could jump from animals to humans. Guess we’ll just have to stop depleting ecosystems. How hard could it be?