July 8, 2013

Now It's Fungus--Hawaii's Threatened Coral Reefs Take another Hit and more wildlife disease news


Potential Hot Spot for Avian Flu Transmission Identified in Western Alaska

Low-pathogenic avian influenza viruses with Eurasian genes have been found among birds in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta of western Alaska, supporting the theory that the area is a potential point of entry for foreign animal diseases such as the more highly pathogenic H5N1 strain, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey scientists.

... In a paper published by the USGS and the USFWS scientists no highly pathogenic forms of avian influenza were found in more than 24,000 samples tested from 82 species on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta from 2006 to 2009, however, 90 low-pathogenic strains of the virus were obtained from these Alaskan samples. Low-pathogenic avian influenza viruses are common among wild birds and do not cause mortalities to the degree often seen with highly pathogenic forms of the virus, said USGS research geneticist Andrew Reeves, lead author of the paper. The significance of this study is that it demonstrates that viruses with genes of Eurasian origin can enter North America via migratory birds.

USGS Newsroom
27 Jun 2013
Location: Yukon - Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska, USA - Map It

Cited Journal Article
AB Reeves et al. Genomic analysis of avian influenza viruses from waterfowl in western Alaska, USA. Journal of Wildlife Diseases. 2013 Jul 01; 49(3):600-610. doi: 10.7589/2012-04-108

Now It's Fungus--Hawaii's Threatened Coral Reefs Take another Hit

Along with invasive cyanobacterial fungus and algae, poisonous runoff, rising ocean levels, acidic waters and overfishing are taking their toll on the reefs and the marine life they support.

. . .  Despite sweeping protections put in place near the end of George W. Bush’s presidency for large swaths of marine ecosystems around the Hawaiian Islands, things are not looking good for Hawaii’s coral reefs. Poisonous runoff, rising ocean levels, increasingly acidic waters and overfishing are taking their toll on the reefs and the marine life they support. Biologists are trying to remain optimistic that there is still time to turn things around, but new threats to Hawaii’s corals are only aggravating the situation.

To wit, a previously undocumented cyanobacterial fungus that grows through photosynthesis is spreading by as much as three inches per week on corals along the otherwise pristine North Shore of Kauai. “There is nowhere we know of in the entire world where an entire reef system for 60 miles has been compromised in one fell swoop,” biologist Terry Lilley told The Los Angeles Times. “This bacteria has been killing some of these 50- to 100-year-old corals in less than eight weeks.” He adds that the strange green fungus affects upwards of five percent of the corals in famed Hanalei Bay and up to 40 percent of the coral in nearby Anini Bay, with neighboring areas “just as bad, if not worse.” Lilly worries that the entire reef system surrounding Kauai may be losing its ability to fend off pathogens.

Scientific American Earth Talk
30 Jun 2013

Scientists Discover Thriving Colonies of Microbes in Ocean 'Plastisphere'

Scientists have discovered a diverse multitude of microbes colonizing and thriving on flecks of plastic that have polluted the oceans—a vast new human-made flotilla of microbial communities that they have dubbed the “plastisphere.”

In a study recently published online in Environmental Science & Technology, the scientists say the plastisphere represents a novel ecological habitat in the ocean and raises a host of questions: How will it change environmental conditions for marine microbes, favoring some that compete with others? How will it change the overall ocean ecosystem and affect larger organisms? How will it change where microbes, including pathogens, will be transported in the ocean?

... The plastic debris also represents a new mode of transportation, acting as rafts that can convey harmful microbes, including disease-causing pathogens and harmful algal species. One plastic sampled they analyzed was dominated by members of the genus Vibrio, which includes bacteria that cause cholera and gastrointestinal maladies.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
27 Jun 2013

Cited Journal Article
Erik R. Zettler, Tracy J. Mincer, and Linda A. Amaral-Zettler. Life in the “Plastisphere”: Microbial Communities on Plastic Marine Debris. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2013; 47 (13): 7137–7146. Epub 2013 Jun 07. DOI: 10.1021/es401288x

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