Cross-Continent Comprehensive Assessment of Health, Disease, and Contaminates in the Common Loon (Gavia immer)
The summer of 2014 began a 4-yr-collaborative common loon (Gavia immer) health assessment across North America involving multiple non-profit organizations, state fish and wildlife agencies, and universities. Samples were collected from 170 loons from four key regions across the continent, including New England (Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York), Midwest (Minnesota), and West (Wyoming, Montana, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan). The goal of the study is to establish a comprehensive health assessment of the common loon populations across these regions. Selected health parameters were chosen to provide an understanding of (1) the overall general health condition of the birds, (2) exposure to contaminants, and (3) disease presence in each region. The health parameters were investigated by analyzing loon blood, feathers, down, and oral and cloacal swabs. The general health parameter analyses included complete blood count, plasma chemistries, packed cell volume, blood lactate, stable isotopes, and genetic profiling. The health parameters for disease presence included Aspergillus panel, hemoparasites, avian influenza virus, bornavirus, and tick diseases. Toxicology analyses included heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and cyanotoxins. The results of this study will 1) provide vital baseline health data on common loons across North America, 2) quantify exposure to environmental contaminants and biotoxins, and 3) measure exposure and shedding of important viral diseases of conservation and public health concern. This information will help guide and prioritize loon conservation efforts across the continent, and provide published loon health parameters for wildlife veterinarians and rehabilitators.
The North American Common Loon health assessment study is a component of Biodiversity Research Institute's "Restore the Call" National Loon Restoration project supported by the Ricketts Conservation Foundation.