Pathogens in the Aquatic Environment – Waterfowl, Avian Influenza

Science Center Objects

This project focuses on understanding the prevalence and strains of avian influenza viruses in the aquatic environment and how this compares to those circulating within wild birds in the same area.

The Challenge: Changes in aquatic ecosystems related to climate change phenomena or other anthropogenically based environmental stressors have significant impact on the dynamics of the host-pathogen-environment relationship, often with surprising results. Therefore, biosurveillance of the aquatic environment for pathogens of significance to aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, as well as to domestic animals and humans, is a focus area of increasing importance in ecosystems science. The study of avian influenza viruses in the aquatic environment is a suitable model for such biosurveillance-based investigations as the pathogen is both persistent in many aquatic reservoirs and highly significant to wildlife, poultry, and human health.

In collaboration with Dr. Christine Densmore at USGS Leestown Science Center

The Science: This work is a collaborative pilot project with USGS Leetown Science that aims to investigate the presence of avian influenza viruses (AIV) in the aquatic environment on the Delmarva Peninsula, comparing:

  1. Identification in distinct reservoirs within waterfowl habitat, such as sediment, waterfowl feces, or filter-feeding animals
  2. Compare prevalence of AIV isolated from environmental samples to the prevalence of AIV isolated directly from wild aquatic bird populations occupying the same habitat.
  3. Determine and compare the subtypes of AIV present in these habitats isolated from both waterfowl and environmental reservoirs.

The Future: Further study throughout Delmarva could follow to apply these methods throughout various waterfowl habitats. Determination of the significance of isolation of AIV from different reservoirs related to site-specific environmental variables (water quality and characteristics, habitat specifics, flora and fauna, etc.) could thereby also be determined through future biosurveillance efforts.