Contaminant Biology Program

Featured Science Activities

Our science activities are summarized in a series of feature articles that highlight recent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) environmental health science activities. They are short summaries of peer-reviewed journal articles and USGS reports co-authored by our specialized teams of scientists.
Older featured science activities are on our old Web site.

Filter Total Items: 54
Date published: May 25, 2018
Status: Completed

Simple Ways to Avoid Public Exposures to Infectious Wildlife Diseases Summarized

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and other disease specialists, have published reports during the past 12 years with information about the geographic distribution of diseases, specific pathogens, disease ecology, and strategies to avoid human exposure and infection for seven zoonotic diseases.

Date published: May 18, 2018
Status: Completed

New Method Can Measure Naturally Occurring Element Exposure in Hummingbirds Without Harm

Seventeen naturally occurring trace elements, including those associated with adverse health impacts when birds are exposed to toxic levels (iron, lead, mercury, selenium, zinc, cadmium, and arsenic) were measured in small birds without harm. The nonlethal method was developed for hummingbirds, with Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna) as a test species and can be more broadly applied...

Contacts: Josh T Ackerman, Lisa Tell, Robert Poppenga- DVM, PhD, DABVT
Date published: December 19, 2017
Status: Completed

Understanding Associations between Mussel Productivity and Cyanotoxins in Lake Erie

Study findings indicate that cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins were not associated with mussel mortality at the concentrations present in Lake Erie during a recent study (2013-15), but mussel growth was lower at sites with greater microcystin concentrations.

Date published: October 18, 2017
Status: Completed

Body Symmetry in Forster's Terns Related to Mercury Exposure

Body symmetry of Forster's terns (Sterna forsteri) in San Francisco Bay was related to blood and feather mercury concentrations. Body asymmetry can affect a bird's fitness by reducing flight efficiency, thus increasing energetic costs (especially during migration) and interrupting normal feeding and breeding behaviors.

Date published: October 18, 2017
Status: Completed

Optimized Approaches Coupled with Interactive Mapping Application Provide a Tool to Visualize the Occurrence of Soil Pathogens

Scientists optimized existing methods to collect and identify microorganisms including Bacillus anthracis, a pathogenic microorganism, in 4,800 soil samples across the United States, and developed a geographic information system (GIS)-based application to visualize microorganism occurrence throughout the United States.

Contacts: Dale Griffin
Date published: August 14, 2017
Status: Completed

Efficacy of Eggshell Analyses as a Nonlethal Method to Estimate Mercury Exposure in Bird Embryos

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists evaluated a nonlethal method to estimate mercury in the embryos of 23 bird species using mercury content in eggshells. This method was effective for a wide range of ages and species.

Contacts: Josh T Ackerman
Date published: July 14, 2017
Status: Completed

Program Scientist Receives Award for Research on the Effects of Road Dust Control Chemicals

Dr. Bethany Kunz received the 2017 Environmental Excellence Award from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for her exemplary research to advance knowledge of the effects of transportation on the natural environment.

Date published: April 7, 2017
Status: Completed

New Method Improves Measurement of Bullet Fragments in Culled Varmints

A creative combination of radiography and techniques borrowed from meat processing and gold prospecting led to a better method for determining the lead content in ground squirrels shot by hunters to evaluate potential exposure risk to avian scavengers such as golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos).

Date published: March 30, 2017
Status: Completed

Low Levels of Contaminants Found in Great Lakes Tree Swallow Nestlings

Tree swallow nestlings at most study sites in the Great Lakes basin were minimally exposed to organic contaminants.

Date published: March 6, 2017
Status: Completed

Frequent Fliers—Web-Based Tool Aids in Understanding the Role of Wild Birds in Transmission of Avian Influenza

This visualization tool helps researchers and public health officials see how relations between poultry density and waterfowl migration routes affect the threat of avian influenza to people and the poultry industry.

Date published: February 17, 2017
Status: Completed

Assessing Contaminant Hazards Without a Critter—Advancements in Alternatives to Animal Toxicity Testing

During the past two decades, great strides have been made toward the development and use of ecotoxicity testing methods that reduce animal use or replace animals altogether with in vitro tests or in silico models.