Detecting wildlife diseases and death with the new early warning system

From domoic acid poisoning in seabirds to canine tuberculosis in raccoons, wildlife faces a variety of threats and diseases. Some of these same diseases are making their way to humans and pets in our increasingly common environment.

The new Early Detection Wildlife Monitoring System helps identify unusual patterns of disease and death in near real time by leveraging data from wildlife rehabilitation organizations across California. This system has the potential to expand nationally and globally. It was created by scientists at University of California, Davis, College of Veterinary Medicine with partners in California Department of Fish and Wildlife The non-profit organization Wild Neighbors Database Project.

An alert system for morbidity and mortality events in wildlife has been described in study Published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Co-author Terra Kelly, a wildlife epidemiologist at UC Davis One Health Institute and his Karen C. Dreyer Wildlife Center Inside the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. “It speaks to the need for a system like this where we can better understand threats to wildlife populations and respond to them in a timely manner so that there is less damage to wildlife.”

Frontline responders for wildlife

Wildlife rehabilitation workers are the frontline responders of the animal free world. They are the first to receive sick and injured wild animals. Their clinical reports contain a wealth of information that, when shared, can indicate broader patterns.

Until recently, these clinical reports were stored primarily on paper or isolated computer files. In 2012, the founders of the Wild Neighbors Database Project, Devin Dombrowski and Rachel Avilla, created a file Medical database for wildlife rehabilitationor WRMD, a free online tool now used by more than 950 rehabilitation organizations in 48 states and 19 countries to monitor patient care.

Wildlife rehabilitation specialists from the UC Davis Lubricated Wildlife Care Network and Bird Rescue International treat a common murder at the San Francisco Bay Lubricated Wildlife Care and Education Center in Fairfield, California, in 2015 (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Dombrowski and Avilla brought the tool to CDFW, which has associated longtime partners at UC Davis to pilot an alert system using the database as its basis.

“I am glad that WRMD is not only useful for thousands of wildlife rehabilitation but the data collected by them is being used to monitor morbidity and mortality,” said co-author Dombrowski. “Watching the WMME alert system identifying anomalies and alerting investigators is incredible.”

CDFW uses the system to help identify and prioritize wildlife needs and conservation efforts.

“The near-real-time information provided by this system allowed us to quickly follow through with diagnostic tests to identify the problem,” said Krista Rogers, chief ecologist at CDFW’s Wildlife Health Laboratory. “This system was also instrumental in determining the geographic scope and severity of the threat.”

How it works

To test the system, scientists analyzed 220,000 case records collected between early 2013 and late 2018 to determine thresholds for triggering alerts. The data set included records of 453 different species, from common to rare.

Figure 1 of the study indicates case locations (small blue dots) in California submitted to wildlife rehabilitation organizations (larger blue dots) participating in the Wildlife Death Events and Mortality Alert System from 2013-2018. The red regions indicate a high kernel density of cases. (Proceedings of the Royal Society B)

The authors emphasize that the pre-diagnostic alert system. It alerts agencies to unusual patterns that may require further investigation to identify specific health threats.

The system detected several major events, including major acceptances of the following:

  • Seabirds along the coast of central and southern California in late spring 2016. Post-mortem checks confirmed they were starving.
  • Seabirds in April 2017. Domoic acid toxicity was later confirmed as the cause of death.
  • Invasive collared Eurasian doves in 2016 with encephalitis and kidney disease. Investigations revealed pigeon paramyxovirus 1 as the cause of the event. This was the first detection of a virus that appeared in Eurasian doves in this area of ​​California.
  • Rock pigeons in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2017 with an emerging parasite.
  • The birds in 2016 and 2017 had seasonal conjunctivitis due to infection mycoplasma bacteria.

human connections

Kelly notes that the ability to monitor and quickly detect such events is important for all species, including humans. For example, domoic acid poisoning is caused by harmful algal blooms, which are increasing in coastal and freshwater systems and threatening wildlife and human health. Another example is West Nile virus, where bird deaths can be a sensitive indicator of risks to pets and humans.

An alert system is a complementary, inexpensive, and effective tool to add to government wildlife agencies’ toolkit for monitoring efforts. Co-lead author Pranav Pandit, a researcher at UC Davis One Health Institute, said it combines machine learning algorithms, natural language processing, and statistical methods used to classify cases and establish thresholds for alerts with the environment and wildlife distribution within California. and his EpiCenter for disease dynamics.

“The data from wildlife rehabilitation organizations makes such valuable contributions,” Pandit said. “It all comes together in a highly adaptable monitoring system.”

Other partners and study co-authors include Kristen Crowder-Johnson and Michael Zicardi of the University of California, Davis. Nicole Carrion, Stella McMillen and Diana L. Clifford of the CDFW Wildlife Health Laboratory; Anthony Ribery of Y3TI web development company; and Erica Donnelly-Greenan of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and BeachCOMBERS Program.

The study was funded by a State Wildlife Grant from CDFW.