August 13, 2013

Vet focuses on diseases in wildlife and more wildlife health news

Timber Rattlesnakes Benefit Human Health by Preventing Lyme Disease

But new research by a team of University of Maryland biologists shows the timber rattlesnake indirectly benefits humans by keeping Lyme disease in check. The team's findings, presented August 6 at the annual conference of the Ecological Society of America in Minneapolis, highlight the potential benefits of conserving all species – even those some people dislike.

Human cases of Lyme disease, a bacterial illness that can cause serious neurological problems if left untreated, are on the rise. The disease is spread by black-legged ticks, which feed on infected mice and other small mammals. Foxes and other mammal predators help control the disease by keeping small mammal populations in check. The decline of these mammal predators may be a factor in Lyme disease's prevalence among humans.

Timber rattlers are also top predators in Eastern forests, and their numbers are also falling, so former University of Maryland graduate student Edward Kabay wanted to know whether the rattlers also play a role in controlling Lyme disease.

Kabay used published studies of timber rattlers' diets at four Eastern forest sites to estimate the number of small mammals the snakes consume, and matched that with information on the average number of ticks each small mammal carried. The results showed that each timber rattler removed 2,500-4,500 ticks from each site annually.

UMD Right Now - Univeristy of Maryland Press Release
07 Aug 2013
Karen Lips and Lee Tune

Cited Conference Abstract
Edward Kabay et al. Timber Rattlesnakes may reduce incidence of Lyme disease in the Northeastern United States. Ecological Society of America 98th Annual Meeting. Minneapolis, MN. August 4-9, 2013.

Deaths of Manatees, Dolphins and Pelicans Point to Estuary at Risk

Sources: Fish and Wildlife Research Institute;
Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute
The first hint that something was amiss here, in the shallow lagoons and brackish streams that buffer inland Florida from the Atlantic’s salt water, came last summer in the Banana River, just south of Kennedy Space Center. Three manatees — the languid, plant-munching, over-upholstered mammals known as sea cows — died suddenly and inexplicably, one after another, in a spot where deaths were rare.

A year later, the inquiry into those deaths has become a cross-species murder mystery, a trail of hundreds of deaths across one-third of the Indian River estuary, one of the richest marine ecosystems in the continental United States.

... The cause continues to evade easy explanation. But a central question is whether the deaths are symptoms of something more ominous: the collapse of the natural balance that sustains the 156-mile estuary’s northern reaches.

“We may have reached a tipping point,” said Troy Rice, who directs the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, a federal, state and local government partnership at the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Mr. Rice’s fear, widely shared, is that an ecosystem that supports more than 4,300 species of wildlife — and commercial fisheries, tourism and other businesses generating nearly $4 billion annually — is buckling under the strain of decades of pollution generated by coastal Florida’s explosive development. The evidence of decline is compelling.
This year, dolphin strandings in the mid-Atlantic are roughly
seven times higher than normal. (Source: NOAA)

New York Times
07 Aug 2013
M Wines
Location: Indian River Lagoon National Estuary, Florida, USA

More Marine Mammal News

Vet focuses on diseases in wildlife

Scientist and veterinarian Pam Whiteley is on the lookout for sick native wildlife. A kangaroo with the staggers, a coot which has carked it, an echidna which unusually waddles in front of speeding car - they are all her stock in trade.

Mrs Whiteley travels far and wide collecting corpses as head of Wildlife Health Surveillance Victoria. She wants farmers and other rural people to join her team of specialist vets as its eyes and ears. The widespread use of smartphones may be her greatest weapon.

She and her team not only want to dissect and collect samples of dead and diseased wildlife, they want videos of wildlife behaving strangely.

... "We have very limited baseline knowledge of the diseases that affect wildlife species,'' Mrs Whiteley said. "This is because very few wildlife mortality or morbidity events have been reported and investigated.''

Weekly Times Now
07 Aug 2013
C McLennan

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