Cyanobacteria blooms are an increasing problem worldwide. Current studies are focusing on the cyanotoxins produced, their transfer across the food web, bioaccumulations, and the resulting effects on humans and wildlife. In the summer of 2019, the body of a five-week-old Common Loon was found on Province Lake, New Hampshire. As cyanobacterial blooms had been observed on the lake, we investigated whether cyanotoxins could be a possible underlying cause for the death of the chick, and possible sources of transfer. A necropsy was performed to learn whether and at what levels the neurotoxin BMAA was detectable in the loon. Samples of lake water, phytoplankton, zooplankton, and fish were also collected from Province Lake and tested for BMAA using the ELISA technique. BMAA was found to be present at all trophic levels in the lake with a 44.8-fold biomagnification from phytoplankton to zooplankton and biodilution higher up in the food chain leading to the loon. While the loon’s immediate cause of death was determined to be attack-related trauma, sublethal concentrations of BMAA may have impacted the bird’s survivability and contributed indirectly to its death. The detection of BMAA in loon lung tissue raises the question of whether, in addition to transfer via the food chain, inhaled aerosolized cyanobacteria could be another route of exposure to cyanotoxins for both animals and humans.

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UNH Center for Freshwater Biology Research


UNH Center for Freshwater Biology

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