Researchers think eagles could help track toxin in nature

MONROE, Mich. (AP) — Researchers who band baby eagles in Michigan are hoping blood samples analyzed for signs of cancer-causing DDT and PCBs, as well as lead, mercury and common pesticides will eventually also help monitor for the toxin microcystin.

Researchers are trying to develop a way to track the toxin, which would be a new direction for wildlife science, Dave Best, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist, told the Toledo (Ohio) Blade ( ) during a banding event on an 800-acre wildlife refuge Friday.

Best, who spent 28 years doing mostly eagle research, said it underscores the continuing concern over the global rise of microcystis.

Microcystis isn’t the only form of algae that produces the potentially lethal neurotoxin microcystin. But it became western Lake Erie’s most dominant form when the modern era of algal blooms began in 1995.

Scientists believe the growth in the toxin is being accelerated by climate change and invasive species, so they’re better understand the blooms and prevent them from forming in the western Lake Erie basin and elsewhere.

Eagles have long been considered a barometer of ecosystem health, going back to when the national symbol was threatened by extinction years ago because of exposure to the pesticide DDT.

Budget cuts have resulted in fewer bandings, though. Ohio stopped banding eaglets years ago as the bird’s population rebounded, citing costs. Michigan still bands, but researchers Friday acknowledged those days could be dwindling.

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