In response to news of the first confirmed mortality of a Common Loon due to avian malaria in the Northeast, Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) has initiated a crowd funding campaign to investigate the scope of the finding. Through innovative wildlife research and analysis of long-term data sets, BRI and collaborators are investigating the potential impacts of climate change on loon populations.
"Loons are true bellwethers of how we're treating the world around us. It's imperative that we act on their behalf," says David Evers, BRI's executive director and chief scientist. "Our ability to investigate the extent of this new threat on loon populations depends on immediate action and private funding."
The crowd funding campaign, Protecting Common Loons of the North Woods, kicks off today and will run for two months (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/protecting-common-loons-of-the-north-woods#/). The campaign goal is to raise $30,000 to cover the costs of organizing and managing a team of volunteers for loon monitoring, comprehensive health assessment and disease surveillance of live loons, supplies and travel costs for field biologists, and examination of deceased loons in BRI's Wildlife Health and Pathology Lab and the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Lab.
A changing environment brings increased risk of infectious disease for both humans and wildlife. Pathogens that are spread by mosquitoes such as Zika virus, malaria, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), and West Nile Virus are just a few of the diseases that are becoming a greater concern for both people and animals.
To mobilize resources in New England, BRI is collaborating with the Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) to perform a rapid assessment of known loon territories in order to identify sick or dying loons, dovetailing with existing monitoring efforts. "It is important to note," says Evers, "that LPC has launched a new initiative to measure impacts of climate change on loons and the viability of New Hampshire's loon population given predictions of increasing temperatures and precipitation, and has an established network of volunteers and staff monitoring lakes to be able to detect and transport loons for necropsy. This makes our efforts more effective."
In addition, both BRI and LPC are working with Northeast Loon Study Working Group (NELSWG) to maximize coverage throughout the Northeast.
"We need to look more closely at the health of individuals to better understand and protect wildlife in our changing environment," says Michelle Kneeland, DVM, director of BRI's Wildlife Health Program. "At a time of unprecedented environmental change, this work is more urgent than ever."
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