Researcher Discusses Avian Botulism at Sleeping Bear DunesResearcher Discusses Avian Botulism at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

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Date: November 2, 2015

A public program about the research and monitoring efforts to understand avian botulism outbreaks will be held at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (National Lakeshore).

Taaja Tucker of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC) will present a program entitled “Avian Botulism and the Changing Underwater Environment” on November 12 at 9:30 a.m. at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center Auditorium in Empire, Michigan. Her talk will focus on the changing underwater environment of Lake Michigan, the mechanisms that may allow the botulism toxin to proliferate there, and the role of invasive species.  Ongoing research by the GLSC will be discussed, including analysis of the National Lakeshore’s underwater invertebrate community structure, fish communities, and diets of the round goby; an invasive fish thought to be a potential vector of avian botulism.

Avian botulism has killed over 100,000 birds in the Great Lakes since 1999.  Type E botulism is a type of food poisoning caused by the naturally occurring soil bacterium Clostridium botulinum. This bacterium produces a deadly toxin which commonly affects waterbirds such as loons, gulls, grebes, mergansers, cormorants, and ducks. Botulism intoxication is a threat to some state-threatened and endangered species, including the Common Loon, Piping Plover, and lake sturgeon. The USGS, National Park Service (NPS), universities and other organizations have been working together under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to understand the scale of these outbreaks, why and where they occur, and how the toxin makes its way through the food chain to waterbirds.  

Taaja Tucker is a contractor at the USGS GLSC in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Taaja received her Bachelor of Science degree in Fisheries and Wildlife from Michigan State University and a Master of Science degree in Conservation Biology from Central Michigan University. She has been involved with the GLSC’s avian botulism project since 2012. 

These talks are part of a Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore speaker series called “Research Rendezvous.” To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NPS and highlight the value of national parks as our nation’s “living laboratories,” the National Lakeshore is hosting a series of public talks by park researchers through 2016. All Research Rendezvous presentations offered at the National Lakeshore are free.   

The next “Research Rendezvous” presentation is “An Assessment of Forest Health at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore” by Suzanne Sanders (NPS, Great Lakes Inventory and Monitoring Network) on December 10, 2015.



Last updated: November 5, 2015

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