Thursday, January 31, 2008

LoonWatch awards funds for botulism E research

ASHLAND, Wis.–The Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College is pleased to announce Common Coast Research & Conservation (CCRC) as the recipient of the 2007 Sigurd T. Olson Loon Research Award for its proposal “Evaluating the scope and scale of common loon mortalities associated with botulism E outbreaks in northern Lake Michigan.” CCRC is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study and protection of common loons and their aquatic habitat. The $2000 award will fund one year of the project and is administered by the LoonWatch program.

“Our research committee felt that this study was long overdue and that it could shed light on changes in local, specific breeding populations,” said Stacy Schaefer, environmental education coordinator for the LoonWatch program. “This project will generate previously unknown information about a significant mortality factor for common loons, and encourages cooperation between citizens and the agencies and groups that will handle future botulism E outbreaks.”

The proposed study will be led by researchers Joseph Kaplan, Damon McCormick and Keren Tischler and the goal of the project is to gain a better understanding of the number of water bird mortalities associated with outbreaks of type E botulism bacteria in northern Lake Michigan. CCRC will develop a uniform method of surveying beaches where large numbers of dead birds have washed ashore and build a network of volunteers and agencies to aid in conducting these surveys. The data collected during the surveys will then be compiled and used to determine the extent of the problem and its potential effects on the common loon population.

Although water bird die-offs due to ingestion of the bacteria have been recorded in the lower Great Lakes since the 1960’s, the frequency and extent of the problem has increased sharply in recent years due to the introduction of exotic species to the Great Lakes and a rise in average water temperature. Botulism E outbreaks are believed to be responsible for the deaths of more than 50,000 water birds since 1999, including some 15,000 common loons. During the field portion of their research Kaplan and the others also will collect and archive loon feather samples for use in ongoing research related to mercury and other stable isotopes. Since 1986, the Loon Research Award has provided funding for original research that leads to better understanding and management of loon populations. This award program is named after biologist Sigurd T. Olson, whose 1952 paper with William H. Marshall, “The Common Loon in Minnesota,” continues to be cited as one of the premier baseline reports on the biology of the Common Loon.

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