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Avian disease at the Salton Sea

January 1, 2002

A review of existing records and the scientific literature was conducted for occurrences of avian diseases affecting free-ranging avifauna within the Salton Sea ecosystem. The period for evaluation was 1907 through 1999. Records of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Biological Survey and the scientific literature were the data sources for the period of 1907–1939. The narrative reports of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the epizootic database of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center were the primary data sources for the remainder of the evaluation. The pattern of avian disease at the Salton Sea has changed greatly over time. Relative to past decades, there was a greater frequency of major outbreaks of avian disease at the Salton Sea during the 1990s than in previous decades, a greater variety of disease agents causing epizootics, and apparent chronic increases in the attrition of birds from disease. Avian mortality was high for about a decade beginning during the mid-1920s, diminished substantially by the 1940s and was at low to moderate levels until the 1990s when it reached the highest levels reported. Avian botulism (Clostridium botulinum type C) was the only major cause of avian disease until 1979 when the first major epizootic of avian cholera (Pasteurella multocidia) was documented. Waterfowl and shorebirds were the primary species affected by avian botulism. A broader spectrum of species have been killed by avian cholera but waterfowl have suffered the greatest losses. Avian cholera reappeared in 1983 and has joined avian botulism as a recurring cause of avian mortality. In 1989, avian salmonellosis (Salmonella typhimurium) was first diagnosed as a major cause of avian disease within the Salton Sea ecosystem and has since reappeared several times, primarily among cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis). The largest loss from a single epizootic occurred in 1992, when an estimated 155 000 birds, primarily eared grebes (Podiceps nigricollis), died from an undiagnosed cause. Reoccurrences of that unknown malady have continued to kill substantial numbers of eared grebes throughout the 1990s. The first major epizootic of type C avian botulism in fish-eating birds occurred in 1996 and killed large numbers of pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis & P. erythrorhynchos). Avian botulism has remained as a major annual cause of disease in pelicans. In contrast, the chronic on-Sea occurrence of avian botulism in waterfowl and shorebirds of previous decades was seldom seen during the 1990s. Newcastle disease became the first viral disease to cause major bird losses at the Salton Sea when it appeared in the Mullet Island cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) breeding colony during 1997 and again during 1998.

Publication Year 2002
Title Avian disease at the Salton Sea
DOI 10.1023/A:1016570810004
Authors Milton Friend
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Hydrobiologia
Index ID 1003935
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center