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Concept: Great Egret


Species distribution models (SDM) link species occurrence with a suite of environmental predictors and provide an estimate of habitat quality when the variable set captures the biological requirements of the species. SDMs are inherently more complex when they include components of a species' ecology such as conspecific attraction and behavioral flexibility to exploit resources that vary across time and space. Wading birds are highly mobile, demonstrate flexible habitat selection, and respond quickly to changes in habitat quality; thus serving as important indicator species for wetland systems. We developed a spatio-temporal, multi-SDM framework using Great Egret (Ardea alba), White Ibis (Eudocimus albus), and Wood Stork (Mycteria Americana) distributions over a decadal gradient of environmental conditions to predict species-specific abundance across space and locations used on the landscape over time. In models of temporal dynamics, species demonstrated conditional preferences for resources based on resource levels linked to differing temporal scales. Wading bird abundance was highest when prey production from optimal periods of inundation was concentrated in shallow depths. Similar responses were observed in models predicting locations used over time, accounting for spatial autocorrelation. Species clustered in response to differing habitat conditions, indicating that social attraction can co-vary with foraging strategy, water-level changes, and habitat quality. This modeling framework can be applied to evaluate the multi-annual resource pulses occurring in real-time, climate change scenarios, or restorative hydrological regimes by tracking changing seasonal and annual distribution and abundance of high quality foraging patches.

Concepts: Bird, Stork, Threskiornithidae, Ibis, American White Ibis, Birds of the United States, Great Egret, Eudocimus


Releases of Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) associated with Aqueous Film Forming Foams (AFFFs) have the potential to impact on-site and downgradient aquatic habitats. Dietary exposures of aquatic-dependent birds were modeled for seven PFASs (PFHxA, PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFHxS, PFOS, and PFDS) using five different scenarios based on measurements of PFASs obtained from five investigations of sites historically-impacted by AFFF. Exposure modeling was conducted for four avian receptors representing various avian feeding guilds: lesser scaup (Aythya affinis), spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularia), great blue heron (Ardea herodias), and osprey (Pandion haliaetus). For the receptor predicted to receive the highest PFAS exposure (spotted sandpiper), model-predicted exposure to PFOS exceeded a laboratory-based, No Observed Adverse Effect Level exposure benchmark in three of the five model scenarios, confirming that risks to aquatic-dependent avian wildlife should be considered for investigations of historic AFFF releases. Perfluoroalkyl sulfonic acids (PFHxS, PFOS, and PFDS) represented 94% (on average) of total PFAS exposures due to their prevalence in historical AFFF formulations, and increased bioaccumulation in aquatic prey items and partitioning to aquatic sediment relative to perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids. Sediment-associated PFASs (rather than water-associated PFASs) were the source of the highest predicted PFAS exposures, and are likely to be very important for understanding and managing AFFF site-specific ecological risks. Additional considerations for research needs and site-specific ecological risk assessments are discussed with the goal of optimizing ecological risk-based decision making at AFFF sites and prioritizing research needs.

Concepts: Birds of Canada, Lesser Scaup, Aythya, Great Blue Heron, Ardea, Great Egret, Spotted Sandpiper, Birds of Puerto Rico


The phylogenetic position of Clinostomum heluans Braun, 1899 within the genus Clinostomum Leidy, 1856 is reported in this study based on sequences of the barcoding region of the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 gene (COX1). Additionally, molecular data are used to link the adult and the metacercariae of the species. The metacercariae of C. heluans were found encysted infecting the cichlid fish Australoheros sp. in Minas Gerais, Brazil, whereas the adults were obtained from the mouth cavity of the Great White egret Ardea alba, in Campeche, Mexico. The COX1sequences obtained for the Mexican clinostomes and the Brazilian metacercaria were almost identical (0.2% of molecular divergence), indicating conspecificity. Similar molecular divergence (0.2-0.4%) were found between sequences of C. heluans here reported and Clinostomum sp. 6 (after Locke et al., 2015) previously obtained from a metacercaria recovered from the cichlid Cichlasoma boliviense, in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Both, Maximum Likelihood (ML) and Bayesian Inference (BI) analyses unequivocally show the conspecificity between C. heluans and Clinostomum sp. 6, which form a monophyletic clade with high nodal support and very low genetic divergence. Moreover, tree topology reveals that C. heluans occupies a basal position with respect to New World species of Clinostomum, although a more dense taxon sampling of species within the genus is further required. The metacercaria of C. heluans seems to be specific to cichlid fish because both samples from South America were recovered from species of this fish family, although not closely related.

Concepts: DNA, Biology, Cichlid, Phylogenetics, Cytochrome c, Minas Gerais, Egret, Great Egret


The Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010) could have affected the behavior and productivity of birds nesting along the Gulf of Mexico. This research examined the productivity of several species of colonial waterbirds in 2011 in LA colonies that were classified according to the M252 peak SCAT shoreline map oiling designations (as of April 6 2011) within 2 km of each colony. Colonies were classified as no oil, little oil, or medium to heavy oil. Because of the uneven distribution of oil and variation in bird composition within colonies, not all species occurred in each of the three oiling classes in the LA colonies studied. I tested the following hypotheses: (1) there were no interspecific differences in nesting phenology, (2) there were no differences in the number of species per colony as a function of oiling, and (3) there were no differences in reproductive measures as a function of oiling. Nesting phenology differed among species, with brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), great egrets (Ardea alba), and tri-colored herons (Egretta tricolor) nesting earlier than the other species. There were no significant differences in the number of species nesting in colonies as a function of oiling category. Along LA’s shoreline, nests in colonies with a “no oil” category within 2 km of the colony had similar or lower maximum number of chicks/nest, than those from birds in colonies designated as light or moderate/heavy oiling. Average maximum chick sizes in nests in colonies designated as no oil were either similar to or smaller than chicks in nests in colonies designated as either category of oiled. The data suggest that in the year following the oil spill, there were no differences in reproductive success. Although long-term studies are essential to determine effects on population dynamics, the continued exposure of birds nesting along the Gulf of Mexico to acute and chronic oil sources make this a nearly impossible task.

Concepts: Petroleum, Bird, Pelican, Brown Pelican, Egretta, Egret, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret


The presence of free-ranging urban birds is a risk factor for transmitting pathogens to captive animals and humans alike, including Salmonella spp. and diarrheagenic Escherichia coli. Cloacal swabs from 156 synanthropic Great egrets (Ardea alba) and feral pigeons (Columba livia domestica) that inhabit the surroundings of an urban zoo were processed for the identification of Salmonella spp. and diarrheagenic E. coli pathotypes. Bacterial species identification and genotypic characterization employed the matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization-time of flight mass spectrometry and PCR techniques, respectively, comparing their phylogenetic profiles through amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) analysis. A total of 11 birds were positive for Salmonella Typhimurium (7%) and 9 individuals (5.8%) for diarrheagenic E. coli (enteropathogenic E. coli/Shiga-toxin producing E. coli [EPEC/STEC]) strains. S. Typhimurium strains presented highly similar AFLP profiles (85-100%), whereas EPEC/STEC strains showed more polymorphism. The results show free-ranging birds as carriers for both microorganisms in a zoo environment in Brazil for the first time and suggest these species as possible sources of infection to other animals as well as exposing personnel and visitors to potential zoonotic microorganisms. The presence of carriers highlights the importance of a surveillance system and the need for preventive measures to avoid attracting growing number of synanthropic avian species.

Concepts: Bacteria, Evolution, Escherichia coli, Enterobacteriaceae, Proteobacteria, Rock Pigeon, Great Egret, Feral Pigeon


Since 1991, great blue heron (Ardea herodias) eggs have been collected and analyzed for mercury (Hg), persistent organic contaminants (OCs), brominated and non-brominated flame retardants (FRs) as well as stable isotopes δ(13)C and δ(15)N. In the present study, temporal trends of contaminants were analyzed in eggs sampled in four regions along the St. Lawrence River (Quebec, Canada) and inland sites using new and previously published data. Most contaminants declined significantly over time in most regions. Globally, the highest annual change, -17.5%, was found for pp'-DDD, while the smallest annual decline, -0.54%, was observed for Hg. Concentrations of ΣDDT and ΣFR8 (sum of 8 congeners) decreased by -11.6% and -7.3%, respectively. Declines in ΣPCBs differed among regions, from -5.6% in the fluvial section to -14.7% in the inland region. The highest concentration of ΣFR8 was measured in eggs from Grande Ile in the fluvial section of the river in 1996 (2.39μg/g). Stable isotope ratios also showed temporal trends in some regions: δ(13)C decreased in the fluvial section and increased in Gulf region, while δ(15)N decreased in the fluvial section and increased in the upper estuary. Significant positive relationships were found between ΣDDT, ΣPCBs and ΣFRs and δ(15)N and δ(13)C in freshwater colonies, but not in estuarine or marine colonies. These results suggest that changes in trophic level and foraging areas over time were influential factors with respect to contaminant burden in great blue heron eggs in the fluvial section, but not in the other regions.

Concepts: Isotopes, Saint Lawrence River, Great Blue Heron, Ardea, Grey Heron, Herons, Great Egret


Members of the genus Clinostomum Leidy, 1856, colloquially known as yellow grubs, are cosmopolitan parasites of piscivorous birds, freshwater snails, fish and amphibians. In the southeastern United States, piscivorous birds present a continuous challenge for producers of farm-raised catfish. Ciconiiform birds are common hosts of Clinostomum spp. in North America and are endemic on most commercial catfish operations. The great egret Ardea alba L. is an avian predator often found foraging on commercial catfish operations, but to date the trematode fauna of great egrets preying on catfish ponds remains mostly understudied. Thirteen great egrets were captured from commercial catfish ponds in northeast Mississippi, and examined for trematode infections. Two morphologically distinct Clinostomum spp. were observed in the great egrets sampled, one morphologically consistent with Clinostomum marginatum (Rudolphi, 1819) and one morphologically unique species. These morphological descriptions were supplemented with molecular sequence data (c.4,800 bp of ribosomal DNA and c.600 bp of mitochondrial DNA). Gene sequences confirmed the identification of C. marginatum. However, the second species differed significantly from its congeners in both morphology and DNA sequence. Given these distinct morphological and molecular characters we propose this second species as Clinostomum album n. sp.

Concepts: DNA, Molecular biology, Egretta, Egret, Great Blue Heron, Ardea, Herons, Great Egret


Mercury (Hg) is a ubiquitous and highly toxic contaminant that can have negative effects on wildlife. Only a few studies have measured Hg concentrations in birds from the south central United States, and the potential threat of Hg contamination to birds in this region is largely unknown. In the present study, we assess Hg concentrations in blood and feathers from five bird species [eastern bluebird (Sialis sialis), Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), wood duck (Aix sponsa), great egret (Ardea alba), and great blue heron (Ardea herodias)] that occupy different trophic levels at Caddo Lake and Lewisville Lake, located in northeast and north central Texas, respectively. Both sites are contaminated with Hg from the atmosphere. Adult passerines had higher Hg concentrations in their blood than conspecific nestlings. Mercury concentrations in feathers differed between species by more than an order of magnitude with large piscivorous species having higher concentrations than smaller insectivorous species. Mercury concentrations in eastern bluebirds were higher at Caddo Lake than Lewisville Lake. The present study represents one of the first studies of Hg concentrations in multiple bird species in north Texas and suggests that Hg concentrations in birds from atmospherically polluted sites in this region may be high enough to compromise fitness in those species.

Concepts: Bird, Birds of the United States, Birds of Canada, Great Blue Heron, Ardea, Herons, Great Egret, Birds of Mexico


The physiological condition of juvenile birds can be influenced by multiple ecological stressors, and few studies have concurrently considered the effects of environmental contaminants in combination with ecological attributes that can influence foraging conditions and prey availability. Using three temporally distinct indices of physiological condition, we compared the physiological response of nestling great egrets (Ardea alba) and white ibises (Eudocimus albus) to changing prey availability, hydrology (water depth, recession rate), and mercury exposure in the Florida Everglades. We found that the physiological response of chicks varied between species and among environmental variables. Chick body condition (short-term index) and fecal corticosterone levels (medium-term) were influenced by wetland water depth, prey availability, region, and age, but not by mercury contamination. However, mercury exposure did influence heat shock protein 70 (HSP70) in egret chicks, indicating a longer-term physiological response to contamination. Our results indicate that the physiological condition of egret and ibis chicks were influenced by several environmental stressors, and the time frame of the effect may depend on the specialized foraging behavior of the adults provisioning the chicks.

Concepts: Time, Heat shock protein, Mercury poisoning, Threskiornithidae, Ibis, Egret, Great Egret, Ciconiiformes


The hydrology of wetland ecosystems is a key driver of both mercury (Hg) methylation and waterbird foraging ecology, and hence may play a fundamental role in waterbird exposure and risk to Hg contamination. However, few studies have investigated hydrological factors that influence waterbird Hg exposure. We examined how several landscape-level hydrological variables influenced Hg concentrations in great egret and white ibis adults and chicks in the Florida Everglades. The great egret is a visual “exploiter” species that tolerates lower prey densities and is less sensitive to hydrological conditions than is the white ibis, which is a tactile “searcher” species that pursues higher prey densities in shallow water. Mercury concentrations in adult great egrets were most influenced by the spatial region that they occupied in the Everglades (higher in the southern region); whereas the number of days a site was dry during the previous dry season was the most important factor influencing Hg concentrations in adult ibis (Hg concentrations increased with the number of days dry). In contrast, Hg concentrations in egret chicks were most influenced by calendar date (increasing with date), whereas Hg concentrations in ibis chicks were most influenced by chick age, region, and water recession rate (Hg concentrations decreased with age, were higher in the southern regions, and increased with positive water recession rates). Our results indicate that both recent (preceding two weeks) hydrological conditions, and those of the prior year, influence Hg concentrations in wading birds. Further, these results suggest that Hg exposure in wading birds is driven by complex relationships between wading bird behavior and life stage, landscape hydrologic patterns, and biogeochemical processes.

Concepts: Bird, Wetland, Hydrology, Everglades, Egret, Great Egret, Ciconiiformes, History of Florida