CWD in Plants

cwd_map 9-30-13Plants, including crop plants such as alfalfa and tomatoes, may serve as a reservoir for the prions, or misfolded proteins, that cause chronic wasting disease in deer (as well as other prion diseases such as scrapie in sheep, and mad cow disease), reports WisconsinWatch after a careful reading of the The Wildlife Society conference program.

WisconsinWatch is produced by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. And they certainly investigated here.

Christopher Johnson, U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center will present a talk on his research at the conference on October 7.

Oh, and Johnson found that the prions from plants were infectious when injected into mice.

I’m going to skip right over the scary prospect of plants as a reservoir for prion diseases and go right to the next point made in the WisconsinWatch article: this finding is not going to change the fact that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has pretty much given up on managing CWD in the state.

Johnson’s findings have not yet been published in a scientific journal, and it appears that the National Wildlife Health Center has not yet released a report or a press release on the research.

Find The Wildlife Society Conference abstract here.
Read the WisconsinWatch article here.

Map: Incidents of CWD, courtesy of USGS National Wildlife Health Center

Pond Study Points to Chytrid Reservoir

pond research chytridAbout a third of the ponds in a Missouri study harbored chytrid fungus. A Washington University in St. Louis scientist decided to take advantage of the fact that the fungus does not seem to cause amphibian deaths in the region, and tried to tease out the factors that lead to the fungus flourishing in one pond and not another.

The 29 ponds studied were all roughly the same size and depth. They were clustered in the east-central section of Missouri (no surprise, around St. Louis).

No single factor determined which ponds had the fungus and which did not. But some fancy statistical analysis showed that the affected ponds shared amphibian community structure, macroinvertebrate community structure, and pond physicochemistry.

Since the research was done, crayfish and nematodes have been found to be infected with the chytrid fungus, making them possible reservoirs for the disease. This study suggested that variations in invertebrate communities was a factor in which ponds harbored the fungus.

In the paper, which was published in PLoS ONE, the researchers recommend that more research be done on the non-amphibian life in infected ponds to figure out how they are contributing to sustaining the fungus.

Read the Washington University in St. Louis article here.
Read the PLoS ONE paper here.

Photo: A pond survey crew samples the creatures that live in a Missouri pond in order to better understand the differences between ecosystems that favor chytrid and those that do not. Alex Strauss, the first author on this paper, is wearing a blue shirt.  Photo credit: Elizabeth Biro/Washington University – Tyson Research Center

EHD News

It’s been a quiet summer for epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in deer. Either conditions didn’t favor the biting midges that spread the disease among deer, or the northern states that experience periodic fatal outbreaks of the disease are becoming used to the new normal.

EHD season isn’t over, though, as these two news items show. Reuters says that wildlife managers in Montana are trying to pin down the cause of death for 100 white-tailed deer along the Clark Fork River. EHD had not been previously found in Montana west of the Continental Divide, the article says.

Read the Reuters story here.

In North Dakota, there is no doubt that EHD is the cause of deer deaths there. An Associated Press story says that North Dakota’s Game and Fish Department has suspended the sale of 1,000 doe hunting licenses because of an EHD outbreak that began in August and continues, the article quotes ND wildlife Chief Randy Kreil as saying.

Read the AP article in South Carolina’s The State, here.


New Legless Lizards in California

lizard_head_hr_jparham photo creditFour new species of legless lizards have been discovered in California, joining the one species of legless lizard that was previously known in the state.

An NBC News report notes that the four new species were not found in the wilderness, but in some heavily trafficked areas including: “dune bordering a runway at Los Angeles International Airport; an empty lot in downtown Bakersfield, Calif.; a field littered with oil derricks; and the margins of the Mojave Desert.”

The paper describing the four species was published in the journal Breviora and is open access. (The paper was the top link on this page at the time this was posted.)

Lots of people like new legless lizard species, apparently, so you can find coverage (the most detailed coverage)
Popular Science (refers to Reuters coverage)
the previously mentioned NBC News report
and last but not least, the California State University, Fullerton press release.

The reports even include a handy clue for telling a legless lizard apart from a snake. If it blinks, it’s a lizard.

Photo: This legless lizard, which has a purple belly, is among four new species discovered in the state by CSUF scientist James Parham and a research colleague at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley. Credit: James Parham, used courtesy of CSU-Fullerton


River Otter Comeback in Illinois

River_OttersIllinois Department of Natural Resources furbearer biologist Bob Bluet told the Springfield (IL) State Journal Register that the state’s first river otter trapping season culled slightly more otters than anticipated because fur prices were up. “More people were trapping and there was more opportunity to catch otters,” he said.

River otters haven’t been trapped in Illinois since 1929. It was believed their numbers were down to just 100 before 1990. A reintroduction program, which ran from 1994 to 1997 was so successful, that the otters became s nuisance in some places, the article says. The recent trapping season harvested 13 percent of the state’s population, not quite enough to reduce the number of otters in the long term, Bluet told the newspaper.

For more details on the river otter’s restoration in Illinois, the nuisance factor and the recent trapping season, read the article in the Springfield State Journal Register.

An abridged version of the article ran in the West Kentucky Star.

Photo: River otters by Jim Leopold, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service



Fishers Not Found in Wyoming

FisherHabitat models say that there should be fishers in the Wyoming section of the Northern Rocky Mountains, says the Billings Gazette, but a search by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department of the Sunlight Basin, near the Beartooth Mountains, just to the east of Yellowstone National Park did not turn up any fishers.

“We didn’t find any (fishers),” the Billings Gazette article quotes Game and Fish nongame biologist Bob Oakleaf as saying. “What we did find is (pine) marten everywhere.”

It has been about 10 years since the last fisher sighting in the state, the article notes. The Northern Rockies population of fishers had been rejected for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. Further searches for the fisher will be conducted next year.

More details about the search, and the history of fishers in Wyoming, are available in the article. Read it on the Billings Gazette website, here.

Photo: Fisher taking bait in Pacific Northwest. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.



Newly Discovered Chytrid Fungus

fire salamanderA new species of chytrid fungus has a different ecological niche than the one that has been wiping out amphibians all over the globe, says John Platt it Scientific American’s Extinction Countdown blog.

The familiar strain of chytrid fungus thrived in warmer temperatures. The newly discovered species thrives at lower temperatures, the blog post says. The fungus was identified in salamanders in the Netherlands. Midwife toads exposed to the fungus in the lab did not die.

Is this good news or bad news? It could be good news if the fungus is only lethal to a small number of species and is only viable in a certain temperature range. Limits are good when it comes to chytrid fungi.

However, if this species of chytrid fungus is totally different from the other species that has already done a good job of wiping out amphibians worldwide in everything but how lethal it is — in could just hit amphibian species and environments that the other species hasn’t gotten to yet, which would be very bad news indeed.

Read the Extinction Countdown blog post here.
Read the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper here. (Fee or subscription required for full article.)

Photo: Fire salamander in France, by Didier Descouens. Used under Creative Commons agreement.

Chytrid Fungus Found in Kansas

Witchita chytrid frogA press release from Wichita State University says that students there have detected chytrid fungus in the frogs they tested. A previous test of five Kansas frogs did not detect chytrid fungus.

Read the Wichita State press release, here.

Pro-MED has lots of helpful technical details about chytrid fungus in its commentary about the press release, including its complex life cycle and its role in the worldwide decline of amphibians.

Read the Pro-MED comment, here.

In reading that chytrid fungus was newly found in Kansas, I found myself wishing for a map of its presence, as is available for white nose syndrome in bats and chronic wasting disease in deer. You can find that map right here.

Photo: One of the frogs tested. By: Lainie Rusco, used courtesy of Wichita State University

Wildlife and Infrastructure

terrapincrossingSure, you know all about roads and wildlife, but roads are not the only place that wildlife and human infrastructure can do bad things to each other. Two recent stories point out some of the more unusual ways that wildlife influences modern life, and how our modern structures influence the survival of wildlife. (Although that sounds so serious. One of these stories is “cute,” and the other has been mostly reported as “cute.”)

New York City’s Kennedy Airport is on the shores of Jamaica Bay, which is an estuary off the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to the airport, the bay is also home to the National Park  Service’s Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. This creates all sorts of interesting interactions between airplanes and wildlife, but the story of the last two years has been that diamond terrapins, an aquatic turtle, have been crawling across the airport’s runways in search of nesting sites.

Read the whole story in the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeastern Region blog, here.

New York Times Magazine contributor Jon Mooallem has been tracking P.O.C.B.S. — power outages caused by squirrels. He writes about it in the New York Times opinion section. There are many serious potential take-aways in this humorous story, one of which is that no one really knows how many power outages each year are caused by squirrels, or other wildlife.

Read the story in the New York Times, here.

Photo: Yes, that’s a diamondback terrapin crossing a taxiway at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Credit: Port Authority of NY & NJ