Tracking a Bird Eye Disease

House Finch with eye diseaseHouse finch eye disease, which was first struck in the 1990s, unexpectedly became more virulent over time, says a paper published this week by PLoS Biology. It was a less virulent strain, however, that spread west across the country. But once it became established in California, it became more virulent.

“For the disease to disperse westward, a sick bird has to fly a little farther, and survive for longer, to pass on the infection. That will select for strains that make the birds less sick,” said Dana Hawley of Virginia Tech, the lead author of the study in a Cornell Lab of Ornithology press release.

By 1998 the House Finch population in the eastern United States had dropped by half—a loss of an estimated 40 million birds, the release says. The disease does not kill birds directly, but it makes them easy targets for predators.

Read the Cornell press release here.
Read the PLoS biology paper here.

Photo: Male house finch with eye disease, by David Smith. Used courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

It’s Not The Heat, It’s the Water Regime

black-bellied_salamander_cressler_high_resToday is the second day in a US Geological Survey amphibian two-fer. If you like your wildlife moist and federally researched, you’ve come to the right place.

Scientists have long suspected that climate change is an important factor in amphibian declines, a US Geological Survey press release notes, and resource managers are asking whether conservation measures might help species persist or adapt in a changing climate. Three recent U.S. Geological Survey studies offer some insight into the issue.

The studies were conducted by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative, or ARMI.

One study found that it’s not the heat, it’s the precipitation that will drive amphibian’s response to climate change. That is, the alternating droughts and deluges that are predicted to worsen as climate change increases, will hurt amphibian populations as they struggle to adapt to ever-changing water levels. Read that paper in the journal Biology.

Another study confirmed that drought hurts populations of mole salamanders, at least over the short term. The study was important because the mole salamanders are similar to the federally threatened flatwoods salamander, and the finding implies that climate change will be yet another stressor to the threatened species. Read the paper in the journal Wetlands.

The third study showed U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wetlands Reserve Program is effective in increasing the species richness of frogs and toads on farms in the program. Creating permanent, or at least long-lasting, water sources seems to be the primary reason. Learn more in the paper in the journal Restoration Ecology.

You can read a more detailed summary of these three studies in the USGS press release, here.

Photo: Black-bellied salamander (Desmognathus quadramaculatus) was found in the Citico Creek Wilderness, Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee. Not sure what it has to do with these studies, but it’s cute. Photo by Alan Cressler, courtesy USGS.

USGS Calculates How Fast Amphibians Are Falling

Green_Tree_Frog_in_pitcher_plant_Cressler_photoThere have been studies that have calculated the likelihood of extinction for various amphibian species, but the first study to calculate how fast amphibian populations are declining was recently published in PLoS ONE.

The study found that amphibians disappeared from their habitats at a rate of 3.7% per year from 2002 to 2011. Species that are red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) disappeared at an average of 11.6% annually.

“Even though these declines seem small on the surface, they are not,” said US Geological Survey ecologist Michael Adams, the lead author of the study in a press release. “Small numbers build up to dramatic declines with time. We knew there was a big problem with amphibians, but these numbers are both surprising and of significant concern.”

Read the PLoS ONE article, here. (Open access.)
Read the USGS press release on the paper, here.
Read a Washington Post article that is mostly about the rate of amphibian decline, here.

Photo: A green tree frog (Hyla cinerea) sits on the lip of a pitcher plant in a bog in Alabama. Photo by Alan Cressler, used courtesy USGS.

Wyoming Studies Mountain Goats

mtn goat wyomingThe Wyoming Game and Fish Department recently captured four mountain goats in the western part of the state as part of an on-going study into the animals’ travel between Idaho and Wyoming, says an Associate Press article in the Billings Gazette.

An article in the Caspar Star-Tribune adds that, “the goats were tranquilized while biologists collected nasal and tonsil swabs, blood and fecal samples.”

Mountain goats are not native to Wyoming, the articles state. But apparently, they are native to adjoining Idaho. After being reintroduced to Idaho, some of the mountain goats wandered over to Wyoming.

Photo: Mountain goat, courtesy of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Non-native Lice Impact Cal. Deer Population

hair loss syndrome CDFWCalifornia Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) researchers have captured and collected hair and blood samples from more than 600 deer and elk in an effort to understand “deer hair-loss syndrome,” says a CDFW news release.

A non-native louse appears to be a key factor in the syndrome, which also sometimes includes internal parasites. Deer with the syndrome are skinny, and the fawns don’t survive. A report from Fox 40 in Sacramento notes that the syndrome has been known in Oregon for years.

“Some of us speculate that the louse-infested deer spend so much time grooming they become easy targets of predation by coyotes or mountain lions,” said CDFW senior wildlife biologist, Greg Gerstenberg in the release.

The researchers have counted and identified lice on the captured deer, are following them through radio collars, and have treated some for lice. They hope to have answers soon.

Read the brief CDFW news release, here.
The Fox 40 report is here.

Mule deer are in decline throughout the West, and California is no exception. This article from 2010 in the San Francisco Chronicle discusses the decline.

Photo: Deer with hair-loss syndrome, courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Invasive Ladybug Packs A Secret Weapon

Harmonia_axyridis01The multicolored Asian ladybug, also known as the harlequin lady beetle or ladybird (or just Harmonia axyridis), carries a fungal parasite in its blood that doesn’t seem to cause it much harm, but is deadly to the native ladybugs of Europe and North America.

That’s why the Asian ladybug has been such a ferocious competitor to native ladybugs, a paper in last week’s issue of the journal Science found. Scientists have long known that where Asian ladybugs are introduced, native ladybugs disappear, but they weren’t sure why. It seemed that the invasive species was out-competing the natives somehow. The new study explains why.

A fungus in the same genus infects honeybees.

Read the article in Science, here. (Subscription or fee required to see the entire article.)
Read the AAAS ScienceShot, here.Here’s the Guardian article, which I ignored at first because it focuses on European ladybugs. (The North American natives are in the same boat.)
Here’s the Los Angeles Times article on the same paper.

Fly away home, indeed.

Photo: ©entomart, just some of the many varieties of the multicolored Asian ladybug

More Black Bears in Oklahoma

FWC black bear cubAbout 200 people watched as the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation released a young black bear. The bear had been found and tranquilized in a university campus neighborhood and was released in a wildlife area, reported Tulsa’s News On Six.

The big turnout is a sign that black bears are not that common in Oklahoma. Black bears were reintroduced to Arkansas in the 1960s, the article says, and their populations there have grown so much that they are now moving into eastern Oklahoma.

The report also mentions a black bear survey being conducted by Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit at Oklahoma State University. Twenty bears have been trapped during the three years of the study, the report says.

View or read the News On Six report here.

Photo: Bear cub, courtesy of the Florida Wildlife Commission

NY Snapping Turtle Law Generates Buzz

Snapping_TurtleAll over the Internet, on Facebook, on blogs, on turtle forums and tortoise forums there are requests for New Yorkers to protest a proposed State Assembly bill that would allow trapping of snapping turtles.

I could not find any information on why these members of the New York State Assembly want to re-introduce the trapping of snapping turtles now. But I did find this informative article in the Baltimore City Paper explaining that trapping snapping turtles was banned in the state in 2009.

Ten years ago I researched an article on the global turtle crisis. Scientists and conservationists said that China’s increasing wealth had just about wiped out wild turtles not only in China, but throughout Southeast Asia. The Chinese were importing turtles from Africa and Australia. At the time scientists feared the crisis would reach the United States.

In the US, the southern states were the first to see turtle exports to China. Is the New York State bill an attempt to cash in on the trade? Current New York State law allows hunters to shoot the turtles with guns or arrow, but not live trap them. The Chinese market demands live turtles.

Snapping turtles are common in New York State and elsewhere. What made the global turtle crisis a crisis, however, is that the that the turtles started out common everywhere, but were quickly wiped out.

Read the Assembly bill here.
Read the Baltimore City Paper article here.

Photo: Snapping turtle by Chelsi Hornbaker, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

The Farm Bill… Again

Eleven months ago I wrote a very brief post about why you should care about the Farm Bill. Among other things, the Farm Bill pays farmers not to plow prairies and not to drain wetlands, therefore providing wildlife habitat for ducks and grassland species. This is particularly important because native prairie has all but disappeared.

Well, Congress is still at it. This week the Senate Ag Committee passed a version of the bill that would not reward farmers who plow up prairie with crop insurance. That resulted in a tiny sigh of relief from some.

Here’s Dall Hall, former director of US Fish and Wildlife, and now CEO of Ducks Unlimited discussing the issues in the Grand Forks Herald.

Here’s what Grist has to say about the bill that will not pass, but will not die.

And here’s an update from the New York Times blog on this week’s events.