Wildlife Disease and Environmental Health in Alaska

Science Center Objects

Environmental health is defined by connections between the physical environment, ecological health, and human health. Current research within the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recognizes the importance of this integrated research philosophy, which includes study of disease and pollutants as they pertain to both wildlife and humans. Due to its key geographic location and significant wildlife resources, Alaska is a critical area for future study of environmental health.

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Avian Influenza Research

Since 2006, the USGS Alaska Science Center has been part of the State and Federal interagency team for the detection and response to highly pathogenic (HPAI) viruses in North America. Avian influenza or "bird flu" is a viral disease that primarily infects domestic poultry and wild birds. Avian influenza viruses are naturally occurring in wild birds such as ducks, geese, swans, and gulls. These viruses generally do not cause illness in wild birds, however, when spread to poultry they can be highly pathogenic and cause illness and death in backyard and commercial farms.

Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Migratory Birds

Migratory birds, and particularly those using habitats close to human settlements, may be infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria.  The USGS is working with public health professionals to understand the role of birds in the maintenance and dispersal of antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Additionally, the USGS is investigating how antibiotic resistant bacteria in birds may relate to public and ecosystem health.

Beak Deformities in Landbirds

Over the past 20 years, Alaskans have witnessed a startling increase of beak deformities among Black-capped Chickadees and other species of resident birds. This disease, called avian keratin disorder (AKD), is characterized by debilitating beak overgrowth and other abnormalities of keratinized tissues. Affected birds have difficulty feeding and preening, and may suffer high rates of mortality.

Diseases and Contaminants in Waterfowl

Waterfowl are common reservoirs for a variety of avian diseases and can suffer significant mortality from certain pathogens. Additionally, waterfowl are exposed to naturally occurring and human sources of contaminants. Research at the USGS Alaska Science Center on disease and contaminants in waterfowl strengthens the efficiency and effectiveness of disease surveillance across North America.

Harmful Algal Bloom Toxins in Alaska Seabirds

Seabird die-offs occur irregularly, but recent die-offs were unusual due to the large number and variety of species affected, the long die-off duration, and the large spatial extent. Coastal residents and scientists have been monitoring the size and scope of these die-offs, as well as investigating potential causes.

Molecular Ecology Laboratory in Alaska

The Molecular Ecology Laboratory at the USGS Alaska Science Center provides genetic capabilities for the wide range of science needs of the Department of the Interior nationally as well as on trust species and resources in Alaska. 

Wildlife Disease and Environmental Health Fact Sheet