Category Archives: Ecology

CALIFORNIA preparing for TIGER MOSQUITO that carries DENGUE and other VIRUSES ~ EUROPEAN climate change favors MOSQUITO that carries DENGUE and other VIRUSES ~ TENNESSEE TICK season is early and ROCKY MOUNTAIN SPOTTED FEVER cases are up over 500% ~ FDA says CALIFORNIA case of MAD COW DISEASE under control ~ RABIES reports from FLORIDA(2), MASSACHUSETTS, NEW JERSEY, OKLAHOMA, & VIRGINIA.

Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopicts, beginning its blood-meal. Courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia.

California 04/25/12 by Jessica Parks – Santa Clara County is urging residents to be on the lookout for an exotic, bloodthirsty tiger with a potentially lethal bite.  It was last seen in Los Angeles County on Dec. 28. Asian tiger mosquitoes are a much smaller threat than jungle cats and haven’t been linked to any human illnesses in California.  But officials aren’t taking any chances.  Once the species becomes established, it is very difficult to eradicate and can spread diseases such as chikungunya, dengue fever and encephalitis. The county is launching a public education campaign, asking residents to “be our eyes and ears,” said vector control chief Russ Parman, who will oversee the effort. The tiger mosquito is easily distinguished from common local species, due to its distinctive black body with white stripes and aggressive biting during daylight hours.  Parman’s office is also laying simple water traps across the county and using helicopters to locate stagnant pools of water where mosquitoes might be breeding.

The best way to eradicate invasive pests is to catch them early, before they can reproduce and branch out.  In early September, officials in Southern California began getting calls about strange-looking, day-biting mosquitoes east of downtown Los Angeles.  They went door-to-door and sprayed to suppress the insects, but “there were quite a few of them out there” and it’s impossible to know whether any larvae survived, said Kelly Middleton, a spokeswoman for the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito & Vector Control District. With warm weather following recent rains, spring is a prime time for the invasive pest to reappear. – For complete article see

Europe 04/25/12 by SAPA – The climate in north-west Europe and the Balkans is becoming suitable for the Asian tiger mosquito, a disease-spreading invasive species, scientists said on Wednesday. The warning comes from scientists at the University of Liverpool, north-west England, who say the two regions have been having progressively milder winters and warmer summers. These temperate conditions favour the mosquito, which gained a foothold in Albania in 1979 and is now present in more than 15 countries on Europe’s southern rim. “Over the last two decades, climate conditions have become more suitable over central northwestern Europe – Benelux, western Germany – and the Balkans,” they said. At the same time, drier conditions in southern Spain have made that region less welcoming for the insect, they said.

Hemorrhagic Dengue Fever Victim.

The Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), a native of tropical and subtropical areas of Southeast Asia, can transmit viruses that cause West Nile fever, yellow fever, dengue, St. Louis and Japanese encephalitis and other diseases. In 2005-6, it caused an epidemic of chikungunya, a disease that attacks the joints, on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion. A year later, it unleashed an outbreak of chikungunya in the Italian province of Ravenna. In 2010, it was fingered as a transmitter of dengue virus in France and Croatia. As of last December, the mosquito was present in more than 15 countries, from southern Spain to parts of Greece and Turkey, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Reporting in Britain’s Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the Liverpool team looked at European weather records for 1950-2009 and ran a widely-used computer model to simulate weather trends for 2030-2050. “Similar trends are likely in the future with an increased risk simulated over northern Europe and slightly decreased risk over southern Europe,” says the study. “These distribution shifts are related to wetter and warmer conditions favouring the overwintering of A. albopictus in the north, and drier and warmer summers that might limit its southward expansion.” The paper points out that weather alone does not mean the species will automatically spread there. It also notes that the study did not consider vegetation or soil types which also determine whether the mosquito would be able to breed there. In addition, cold snaps or hot, dry spells also help limit mosquito survival, and these too were not included in the investigation. In the mid-1960s, the Asian tiger mosquito was limited to some parts of Asia, India and a handful of Pacific islands. It has since spread to North and South America, the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East, as well as Europe, mainly by hitchhiking a ride in exported materials.

Tennessee 04/26/12 News Release – The Tennessee Department of Health is seeing significant increases in tick-borne illnesses this year following an unusually mild winter and spring. Cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever are up 533 percent compared to this time last year, according to Abelardo Moncayo, Ph.D., with the TDH Division of Communicable and Environmental Diseases and Emergency Preparedness. “We’ve documented 38 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, compared with only six by the same time last year,” Moncayo said. “We are also seeing increased numbers of other tick-borne infections compared to last year. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the most serious tick-borne disease in the United States. Symptoms usually appear two to 14 days after a bite from an infected tick.

Petechial rash.

The disease often begins with sudden onset of fever and headache. Early symptoms may resemble other diseases and include nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, lack of appetite and severe headache. Later symptoms may include rash, abdominal pain, joint pain and diarrhea. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a serious illness that can be fatal if not treated correctly, even in previously healthy people. It and other tick-borne illnesses can have devastating effects, but are effectively treated with antibiotics. Persons with symptoms should see their medical provider for early diagnosis and treatment. – For tips on preventing tick bites see

California 04/26/12 News Release – This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed that a dairy cow in California tested positive for atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or “mad cow” disease). The USDA also confirmed the cow did not enter the animal feed or human food supply. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working with federal and state authorities to further investigate this case. The FDA is confident in the effectiveness of the existing animal feed safeguards designed to prevent the spread of BSE through feed. Although current science suggests that atypical cases of BSE, such as this one, are unlikely to be transmitted through animal feed, the FDA will work with the USDA to complete a thorough epidemiological investigation. Importantly, scientific research indicates that BSE cannot be transmitted in cow’s milk. – For more information see USDA’s Chief Veterinary Officer on the Recent BSE Case (aka Mad Cow)

Florida 04/25/12 North Fort Myers, Lee County: A horse that died from rabies last week presented the first confirmed case of the virus in the county in two years. – See

Florida 04/25/12 Merritt Island, Brevard County: A pet cat located at Banana River Drive that bit it’s owner has tested positive for rabies. It is most likely the cat contracted the disease from wild animal infected with the virus. – See

Massachusetts 04/25/12 Wayland, Middlesex County: A raccoon found off Concord and Lincoln roads in North Wayland has tested positive for rabies. – See

New Jersey 04/25/12 New Milford, Bergen County: A raccoon that attacked a man near his Pine Street home last Friday has tested positive for rabies. The man was bitten on an arm and a leg. – See

Oklahoma 04/25/12 Shawnee, Pottawatomie County: In little more than a week Unity Health Center staff have seen 10 patients with possible rabies exposure, Kari Gilliam, a pharmacist at Unity, said. From January to March 31 there have been 21 cases of rabies statewide; there were 60 total in 2011. Seventy percent of the rabies cases are found in skunks, and then cattle, dogs, cats, horses and bats. – For complete article see

Virginia 04/25/12 Virginia Beach: A raccoon that bit a mechanic on the arm and shoulder while he was working under a truck was captured by Animal Control and has tested positive for rabies. The mechanic tried to escape but the raccoon jumped on his back and bit him several times. Officers believe someone is feeding feral cats in the area and the food has attracted raccoons. It’s possible that the feral cats have also been exposed to the virus. The incident occurred near Butternut Lane. – See

USBLM study finds energy development and WEST NILE VIRUS pushing SAGE GROUSE to brink of extinction ~ CALIFORNIA confirms HANTAVIRUS in nine RODENTS captured in San Timoteo Canyon ~ RABIES reports from CA, IL, MN, NC, & VA ~ FOLLOW-UP REPORTS: Did a BLACK BEAR really rescue an elderly hiker from an attacking MOUNTAIN LION?

Sage Grouse. Courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Wyoming 04/03/12 by Jeremy Fugleberg – Sage grouse in northeastern Wyoming are on the verge of extinction, hammered hard by a one-two punch from energy development and outbreaks of West Nile virus, according to a recently released U.S. Bureau of Land Management study. The species, whose health is a barometer for the sagebrush-covered high plains where they live, are one virus outbreak or severe weather event from being killed off in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and southeastern Montana, the researchers said. “Our results suggest that if development continues, future viability of the already small sage grouse populations in northeast Wyoming will be compromised,” said the three University of Montana wildlife biologists who authored the study. They recommended a range of actions for the BLM, which manages most of the land in the area that has seen intensive energy development in the past decade, particularly as coalbed methane development ramped up in the early 2000s.

Coal mining in Wyoming.

According to an earlier study, the sage grouse population in the coalbed methane fields dropped by 82 percent between 2001 and 2005. The BLM should focus restoration efforts on areas around plugged and abandoned wells, removal of roads and open water from energy development, and additional monitoring and counting, the researchers said. The study and its recommendations were lauded by the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowners group that has long called for more protection of the sage grouse and more careful energy development in the area.

Sage Grouse. Photo by Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife.

In a statement, PRBRC board member Bob LeResche said the BLM ignored a “more measured and holistic approach” to development supported by the resource council at the start of the coalbed methane boom, and “now we are paying the price.” “We must not allow the oil and gas industry’s political muscle to continue to overwhelm science and the need for careful planning,” he said. “We must balance oil and gas development with other resources.” A BLM representative referred questions to a question-and-answer page released by the bureau alongside the report. According to the page, the BLM will move forward with the suggestions of the study’s authors, and consider the information as it mulls changes to the bureau’s Buffalo field office resource management plan, which covers the area.

The bureau will continue working with operators and landowners and federal and state agencies to restore sage grouse habitat in the area and work on mosquito control measures to reduce the risk of a West Nile virus outbreak, the BLM said. Will the BLM halt oil and gas development? No, the bureau said, answering its own question. The “BLM will continue to work with leaseholders and operators to address impacts to sage grouse and other resources,” the bureau said.- For complete article see

Deer mouse.

California 04/04/12 Hantavirus is making a return appearance. Riverside County health officials tested nine rodents captured in San Timoteo Canyon and found they were infected. There has never been a documented human case of hantavirus syndrome in Riverside County. But, 56 human cases were identified elsewhere in California since 1980. Thirty-seven were fatal. Droppings and urine from deer mice infected with the virus create tiny droplets that can be inhaled by people. As the disease progresses, the lungs fill with fluid creating respiratory failure.

California 04/03/12 Monterey County: Late in March a dog and a skunk both tested positive for rabies in separate incidents. See

Illinois 04/03/12 Moultrie County: Two people who were exposed to a bat that has tested positive for rabies are receiving post-exposure prophylaxis treatment. See

Minnesota 04/01/12 Minneapolis, Hennepin County: Health officials have issued a rabies alert after a bat found in the vicinity of 26th and 27th streets near Lake of the Isles tested positive for the virus. There is concern that people in the area, especially children, may have touched the bat. Parents are urged to discuss this with their children and seek medical advice if necessary. See

North Carolina 04/03/12 Ahoskie, Hertford County: Authorities are looking for a pack of wild dogs that has killed several pets in the vicinity of N.C. Rt. 42, and there is concern that one or more of the dogs might be infected with rabies. See

Virginia 04/02/12 Callands, Pittsylvania County: A raccoon captured in the vicinity of Maple Road has tested positive for rabies and  officials are concerned that it may have had direct contact with other animals in the area, including pets. See–ar-1812785/

Follow-Up Reports:

(March 30, 2012: CALIFORNIA man claims BEAR rescued him when MOUNTAIN LION attacked)

Author’s Note: Some officials, including several from California Fish & Game, dispute the veracity of Robert Biggs report that he was attacked by a mountain lion and rescued by a black bear. As no one other than Mr. Biggs is taking a firm position on whether or not this actually happened,  this blog is taking no position on the matter.

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE proposal would cull 360 BISON from YELLOWSTONE’s migrating herds ~ SOUTH DAKOTA county issues MOUNTAIN LION ALERT in vicinity of local school ~ RABIES report from NEW JERSEY ~ Europe: SWEDEN’s Nature Democrats want WOLVES banned.

American Bison. Courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Montana 11/21/11 by Matthew Brown – As many as 360 migrating wild bison would be shot by hunters in Montana, captured for slaughter or shipped elsewhere this winter under a proposal from Yellowstone National Park officials seeking an alternative to the indiscriminate slaughters of years past. Documents obtained by The Associated Press show officials are considering “selective culls” to help reduce the park’s bison population from 3,700 animals to about 3,000. Some of this winter’s anticipated decrease would come from natural deaths.

Photo courtesy Buffalo Field Campaign.

The proposal comes amid rising pressure from Montana officials including Gov. Brian Schweitzer to rein in the size of Yellowstone’s iconic bison herds. Others say the animals should roam freely — although cattle ranchers worry that could bring unwanted competition for grazing space and spread the animal disease brucellosis. Park biologists wrote in the proposal that reducing the population could avoid the need for the large-scale slaughters — more than 1,700 were killed or removed in 2008 — seen during past migrations. In harsh winters, bison leave the park in large numbers seeking food at lower elevations in Montana.

Photo courtesy Buffalo Field Campaign.

State officials said hunting was their top choice for population control. However, Schweitzer said in an interview that for the strategy to work, the park must open its borders to hunting inside portions of Yellowstone where bison often congregate in winter. Past hunts yielded few bison during mild winters when the animals did not cross out of the park. “These things have to have some give and take. The buffalo doesn’t know where the line is when it leaves the park,” said the Democratic governor. “We end up taking care of the oversupply of bison because they aren’t managing their population within the park.”

Photo by Stefan Didam. Wikimedia Commons.

Yellowstone administrators declined an AP request to interview the biologists who wrote the proposal. Park spokesman Al Nash said it was a draft document subject to change, but hunting inside the park would not be considered. Still, after years of public acrimony over the slaughters, Nash said the park is looking for a new and lasting approach to bison management.  Everybody would agree that we would rather not see large culls of animals,” he said. “We’re certainly looking at something that would have to be a longer-term plan.” More than 3,600 Yellowstone bison were removed over the last decade to prevent the spread of the disease brucellosis. That included the 2008 number, when Yellowstone’s temporary bison capture pens were overwhelmed and many animals went to slaughter without being tested for brucellosis. The disease can cause pregnant animals to miscarry and has been eradicated nationwide except in the Yellowstone region. Tens of millions of bison once roamed North America. Only about 20,000 wild bison remain and Yellowstone’s are considered among the most genetically pure. – For complete article go to

South Dakota 11/18/11 Box Elder, Pennington County: Residents asked to remain alert because of two mountain lion sightings in the vicinity of the Douglas School campus. See

New Jersey 11/21/11 Morris Township, Morris County – A raccoon thought to be the same animal that attacked a person and a resident’s dogs earlier has tested positive for rabies. See


Sweden 11/20/11 The Nature Democrats, a new political party in Sweden, has just one platform issue: the elimination of wolves from Sweden. The party is hoping to gather support in the Riksdag to gain influence over Swedish predator policies, the Swedish news agency TT reported. The party has sparked a fiery debate between wolf defenders and critics on several online forums, the report said, causing a party founder, Gunilla Gronvall, to back away from the party’s wolf-elimination stance. “We want a zero-tolerance policy in populated areas of the countryside, let’s put it that way. But to say that we want to shoot all wolves would be brutal,” she said. However, Nature Democratic head Marcus Werjefeldt said the original party stance hasn’t changed. “We don’t want to eradicate wolves. We just don’t want them in Sweden,” he told TT. Werjefeldt said he doesn’t know how to keep all wolves out of the country, but maintains policies need to change. “This is all about getting a new predator policy,” he said. The party leader said he was surprised the party has garnered so much attention. “It can’t be news that there are people who don’t want wolves,” he said.

Invisible invasive species.

Living cyanobacteria. Photo credit Bellarmine University, Louisville, KY.

While Asian carp, gypsy moths and zebra mussels hog invasive-species headlines, many invisible invaders are altering ecosystems and flourishing outside of the limelight.

Michigan State University zoology professor Elena Litchman. Courtesy EurekAlert.

A study by Elena Litchman, Michigan State University associate professor of ecology, sheds light on why invasive microbial invaders shouldn’t be overlooked or underestimated.

“Invasive microbes have many of the same traits as their larger, ‘macro’ counterparts and have the potential to significantly impact terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems,” said Litchman, whose research appears in the December issue of Ecology Letters. “Global change can exacerbate microbial invasions, so they will likely increase in the future.”

Indiana lake contaminated by cyanobacteria. Courtesy Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation .

The public and scientists seem to be well-informed of the spread of Asian carp, zebra mussels and gypsy moths — all invasive macroorganisms. But what about exotic cyanobacteria, also called “blue-green algae,” which have found their way into North American and European lakes? Or a nitrogen-fixing rhizobium, a soil microorganism that has emigrated from Australia to Portugal?

In the Great Lakes, a brackish diatom (a microscopic alga), has colonized Lake Michigan probably via ballast-water discharge and is now the largest diatom in the waterways. How will it change the ecosystem? What changes has it caused already?

While many people have a working knowledge of the American chestnut blight, which was caused by a pathogenic parasitic fungus, most invasive microbes fly beneath the radar of the public and scientists alike. Virtually nothing has been published on the potential of nonpathogenic microbes on a large scale, according to Litchman.

Red-headed Woodpecker. One of the species commonly infected with West Nile Virus. Photo credit Carolina Bird Club.

“From scientific research, we know that the chestnut blight dramatically altered forests and how the spread of West Nile virus is associated with significant bird die-offs,” she said. “Currently, there are no published examples of the impacts of invasive nonpathogenic microbes, but there is growing evidence that they could change ecosystems in equally dramatic fashion.”

The lack of attention to microbial invasions compared to macroorganisms is due, in part, to their cryptic nature and the difficulty of detection. Lack of detection combined with climate change could potentially increase these microbial invasions, which could continue to grow as the earth’s weather patterns change, Litchman said.

“Increasing air temperatures have been implicated in the spread of malaria and other pathogenic microbes into higher altitudes and latitudes,” she said. “Likewise, climate change could stimulate invasions by tropical and subtropical nonpathogenic microbes into temperate latitudes.”

Litchman’s research is funded in part by the National Science Foundation.