Other Wildlife Diseases

Science Center Objects

Wildlife diseases are an important stressor to some wildlife species. Patuxent scientists work with birds and amphibians to understand how diseases affect their populations. Our scientists are at work on a broad range of questions to understand wildlife disease.  Our research is working to answer questions like “How might differences in tick behavior influence the risk of Lyme disease for humans?” and “How does the life strategy of different birds affect their gut microbes and in turn affect their immune system’s ability to respond to new threats?”

Blacklegged Ticks are Lyme Disease Carriers

(Credit: Graham Hickling. Public domain.)



Vector-borne Disease Research

Lyme disease, which is caused by a tick-transmitted spirochete, is the most common vector-borne disease in North America, with about 300,000 cases each year. Most cases occur in the northeastern and north central U.S., with relatively few in the south, even though the vector tick is present in all of these regions. The purpose of this research is to elucidate the ecological reasons for this geographical gradient in Lyme disease.












Field work sampling for disease

(Public domain.)



Assessing Amphibian Disease Risk in the Northeast

Disease in amphibian populations can have a range of effects, from devastating declines following introduction of a novel pathogen to recurring breakout events on a landscape. Elucidating mechanisms underlying the effects of diseases on amphibian populations is crucial to help managers make appropriate decisions to achieve management goals for amphibians.








Brown-headed Cowbird courtship

Male Brown-headed Cowbird performing courtship ritual in front of a female.  (Credit: William A. Link, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Public domain.)



Disease Resistance of Wildlife Species: how the immune system evolves and adapts

In an era when emerging infectious diseases are steadily increasing, human populations are exposed to virulent new pathogens.  Insight into the human system can be gained from understanding the variety of immune adaptations of wildlife species.  The vertebrate immune system is not static.  Rather, it involves in response to the environment.








Whooping Crane, Grus americana, given the Eastern Equine Encephalitis vaccination

Whooping Crane, Grus americana, given the vaccine for encephalitis (Public domain.)


A Vaccination Program to Protect Endangered Whooping Cranes from Encephalitis Virus

In eastern North America there is a viral disease called Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or EEE. This virus is transmitted among native bird species by the mosquito, Culiseta melanura, but does not cause disease in these passerine species. However, the virus is capable of causing severe disease or death in horses, some game bird species, humans and whooping cranes. In the fall of 1984 during an epizootic at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center endangered species captive breeding facility, 21 of 39 whooping cranes (54%) were infected with the virus and of the 21 infected whooping cranes, 7 or 33% died.