California system keeps an eye out for wildlife illness

Wildlife rehabilitation specialists from UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network and International Bird Rescue treat a common murre at the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center in Fairfield, California, in 2015. Credit: Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis

A new surveillance system in California may help identify unusual patterns of wildlife illness and death as they unfold by tapping into data from wildlife rehabilitation organizations across the state. The Wildlife Morbidity and Mortality Event Alert System was created by scientists at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine with partners at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the nonprofit Wild Neighbors Database Project. The early detection system taps into clinical reports from wildlife rehabilitation organizations that share their data with the Wildlife Rehabilitation Medical Database. The online tool currently includes records from 950 organizations across 48 states and 19 countries. Although the tool currently focuses on California, researchers say it could expand nationally or globally.

The CDFW is using the system to help identify and prioritize wildlife needs and conservation efforts. The alert system is pre-diagnostic, researchers stress, but it can alert agencies to unusual patterns that may warrant investigation. The system detected several events, including a die-off of marine birds due to domoic acid toxicity, virus occurrences in doves and pigeons and Mycoplasma bacteria infections among finches. The team published their findings in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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