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Concept: American White Pelican


In the past decade, severe weather and West Nile virus were major causes of chick mortality at American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) colonies in the northern plains of North America. At one of these colonies, Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota, spring arrival by pelicans has advanced approximately 16 days over a period of 44 years (1965-2008). We examined phenology patterns of pelicans and timing of inclement weather through the 44-year period, and evaluated the consequence of earlier breeding relative to weather-related chick mortality. We found severe weather patterns to be random through time, rather than concurrently shifting with the advanced arrival of pelicans. In recent years, if nest initiations had followed the phenology patterns of 1965 (i.e., nesting initiated 16 days later), fewer chicks likely would have died from weather-related causes. That is, there would be fewer chicks exposed to severe weather during a vulnerable transition period that occurs between the stage when chicks are being brooded by adults and the stage when chicks from multiple nests become part of a thermally protective crèche.

Concepts: United States, Bird, Pelican, Brown Pelican, South Dakota, Pelicans, American White Pelican, Great White Pelican


Environmental disturbances, both natural and anthropogenic, have the capacity to substantially impact animal behavior and abundance, which can in turn influence patterns of genetic diversity and gene flow. However, little empirical information is available on the nature and degree of such changes due to the relative rarity of longitudinal genetic sampling of wild populations at appropriate intervals. Addressing this knowledge gap is therefore of interest to evolutionary biologists, policy makers, and managers. In the past half century, populations of the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) in the southeastern United States have been exposed to regional extirpations, translocations, colony losses, and oil spills, but potential impacts on genetic diversity and population structure remain unknown. To investigate the cumulative impacts of recent disturbances and management actions, we analyzed seven microsatellite loci using genetic samples collected from 540 nestlings across twelve pelican colonies from two time periods, corresponding to before (n = 305) and after (n = 235) the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Pre-2010 populations in Texas were significantly differentiated from Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida populations to the east, with reintroduced populations in southeastern Louisiana having less genetic diversity than sites in Texas, consistent with a recent bottleneck. In contrast, there was no evidence of a geographic component to genetic structure among colonies sampled after the spill, consistent with increased dispersal among sites following the event. This pattern may be associated with reduced philopatry in response to colony abandonment in the areas most heavily impacted by the Deepwater Horizon event, though other factors (e.g., rehabilitation and translocation of oiled birds or colony loss due to erosion and tropical storms) were likely also involved. Future monitoring is necessary to determine if bottlenecks and loss of genetic variation are associated with the oil spill over time, and is recommended for other systems in which disturbance effects may be inferred via repeated genetic sampling.

Concepts: Evolution, Petroleum, Population genetics, Pelican, Brown Pelican, Pelicans, Peruvian Pelican, American White Pelican


Energy and time expenditures are determinants of bird migration strategies. Soaring birds have developed migration strategies to minimize these costs, optimizing the use of all the available resources to facilitate their displacement. We analysed the effects of different wind factors (tailwind, turbulence, vertical updrafts) on the migratory flying strategies adopted by 24 satellite-tracked American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) throughout spring and autumn in North America. We hypothesize that different wind conditions encountered along migration routes between spring and autumn induce pelicans to adopt different flying strategies and use of these wind resources. Using quantile regression and fine-scale atmospheric data, we found that the pelicans optimized the use of available wind resources, flying faster and more direct routes in spring than in autumn. They actively selected tailwinds in both spring and autumn displacements but relied on available updrafts predominantly in their spring migration, when they needed to arrive at the breeding regions. These effects varied depending on the flying speed of the pelicans. We found significant directional correlations between the pelican migration flights and wind direction. In light of our results, we suggest plasticity of migratory flight strategies by pelicans is likely to enhance their ability to cope with the effects of ongoing climate change and the alteration of wind regimes. Here, we also demonstrate the usefulness and applicability of quantile regression techniques to investigate complex ecological processes such as variable effects of atmospheric conditions on soaring migration.

Concepts: Regression analysis, United States, Bird, Pelican, Brown Pelican, Pelicans, American White Pelican, Great White Pelican


Spring migration phenology of birds has advanced under warming climate. Migration timing of short-distance migrants is believed to be responsive to environmental changes primarily under exogenous control. However, understanding the ecological causes of the advancement in avian spring migration phenology is still a challenge due to the lack of long-term precise location data. We used 11 years of Global Positioning System relocation data to determine four different migration dates of the annual migration cycle of the American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), a short-distance migrant. We also tested the hypothesis that increases in winter temperature and precipitation on the wintering grounds would advance pelican spring migration. Pelican spring departures and arrivals advanced steadily from 2002 to 2011. Spring departure timing exhibited high repeatability at the upper end of migration timing repeatability reported in literature. However, individual spring departure and arrival dates were not related to winter daily temperature, total winter precipitation, and detrended vegetation green-up dates indexed by the normalized difference vegetation index. Despite high repeatability, the observed between-year variation of spring departure dates was still sufficient for the advancement of spring departure timing.

Concepts: Bird, Spring, Winter, Pelican, Brown Pelican, Pelicans, American White Pelican, Great White Pelican


Aeromonas hydrophila is a Gram-negative bacterium ubiquitous to freshwater and brackish aquatic environments that can cause disease in fish, humans, reptiles, and birds. Recent severe outbreaks of disease in commercial channel catfish ( Ictalurus punctatus) aquaculture ponds have been associated with a hypervirulent Aeromonas hydrophila strain (VAH) that is genetically distinct from less virulent strains. The epidemiology of this disease has not been determined. Given that research has shown that Great Egrets ( Ardea alba) can shed viable hypervirulent A. hydrophila after consuming diseased fish, we hypothesized that Double-crested Cormorants ( Phalacrocorax auritus), American White Pelicans ( Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), and Wood Storks ( Mycteria americana) could also serve as a reservoir for VAH and spread the pathogen during predation of fish in uninfected catfish ponds. All three species, when fed VAH-infected catfish, shed viable VAH in their feces, demonstrating their potential to spread VAH.

Concepts: Microbiology, Bird, Cormorant, Catfish, Pelican, American White Pelican, Phalacrocorax, Double-crested Cormorant


The initial developmental stages of Contracaecum multipapillatum (von Drasche, 1882) Lucker, 1941 sensu lato were studied using eggs obtained from the uteri of female nematodes (genetically identified) found in a brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis from Bahía de La Paz (Gulf of California, Mexico). Optical microscopy revealed a smooth or slightly rough surface to the eggs. Egg dimensions were approximately 53 × 43 µm, although after the larvae had developed inside, egg size increased to 66 × 55 µm. Hatching and survival of the larvae were greater at 15°C than at 24°C, and increased salinity resulted in a slight increase in hatching but seemed to reduce survival at 24°C, but not at 15°C. The recently hatched larvae measured 261 × 16 µm within their sheath. When placed in culture medium, the larvae grew within their sheath, and a small percentage (~2%) exsheathed completely (314 × 19 µm). The larvae continued to grow and develop once they had exsheathed, attaining mean dimensions of 333 × 22 µm. Although they did not moult during culture, optical microscopy revealed a morphology typical of third-stage larvae. Finally, the genetic identity between the larval parasites collected from mullet Mugil curema and adult female parasites collected from the brown pelican suggests a life cycle of C. multipapillatum in which the mullet are involved as intermediate/paratenic hosts and the brown pelicans as final hosts in the geographical area of Bahía de La Paz.

Concepts: Developmental biology, Bird, Mexico, Pelican, Brown Pelican, Pelicans, Peruvian Pelican, American White Pelican


To establish reference values and report ophthalmic examination findings in a colony of captive brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis).

Concepts: Pelican, Brown Pelican, Pelicans, Peruvian Pelican, American White Pelican


Complete panmixia across the entire range of a species is a relatively rare phenomenon; however, this pattern may be found in species that have limited philopatry and frequent dispersal. American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhyncos) provide a unique opportunity to examine the role of long-distance dispersal in facilitating gene flow in a species recently reported as panmictic across its broad breeding range. This species is also undergoing a range expansion, with new colonies arising hundreds of kilometers outside previous range boundaries. In this study, we use a multiple stable isotope (δ2H, δ13C, δ15N) approach to examine feather isotopic structuring at 19 pelican colonies across North America, with the goal of establishing an isotopic basemap that could be used for assigning individuals at newly established breeding sites to source colonies. Within-colony isotopic variation was extremely high, exceeding 100‰ in δ2H within some colonies (with relatively high variation also observed for δ13C and δ15N). The high degree of within-site variation greatly limited the utility of assignment-based approaches (42% cross-validation success rate; range: 0-90% success). Furthermore, clustering algorithms identified four likely isotopic clusters; however, those clusters were generally unrelated to geographic location. Taken together, the high degree of within-site isotopic variation and lack of geographically-defined isotopic clusters preclude the establishment of an isotopic basemap for American white pelicans, but may indicate that a high incidence of long-distance dispersal is facilitating gene flow, leading to genetic panmixia.

Concepts: Bird, Isotope, Range, Pelican, Brown Pelican, Pelicans, American White Pelican, Great White Pelican


An American white pelican was presented with a complete left wing droop and no abnormal findings on conventional radiography. Computed tomography was used to diagnose chronic shoulder arthritis as a sequela to a suspected traumatic compressive fracture. This is the first case report to describe use of computed tomography to evaluate the avian shoulder joint.

Concepts: Medical terms, Bird, Pelican, Brown Pelican, Pelicans, American White Pelican, Great White Pelican, Pelecanus


Mosquito and West Nile virus (WNV) surveillance was conducted on a national wildlife refuge in northeast Montana in 2005 and 2006, during which outbreaks of WNV in a colony of American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos Gmelin) (Pelecaniformes: Pelecanidae) resulted in juvenile mortality rates of ∼ 31%. Both years, floodwater species Ochlerotatus dorsalis (Meigen) (Diptera: Culicidae), Aedes vexans (Meigen) (Diptera: Culicidae) and Ochlerotatus flavescens (Muller) (Diptera: Culicidae) comprised 78% of the total collection and heightened host-seeking activity was observed from mid-June to mid-July. Culex tarsalis Coquillett (Diptera: Culicidae) was most active from mid-July to mid-August and comprised 18% of the collection in 2005 and 20% in 2006. However, fewer than 10% of the Cx. tarsalis females collected in 2006 were obtained adjacent to the pelicans' nesting grounds. Minimum infection rates per 1000 Cx. tarsalis tested for WNV were 1.36 in 2005 and 1.41 in 2006. All pools in which WNV was detected in 2006 were composed of females collected 10 km from the nesting grounds. Substantial juvenile pelican mortality in 2006 despite reductions in the population of the primary vector and in mosquito infection rates near the colony suggests that the methods used to detect the introduction of WNV were too coarse and that amplification of the virus within the colony may reflect causes other than mosquito infection.

Concepts: Mosquito, Dengue fever, Culicidae, West Nile virus, DEET, Pelican, Brown Pelican, American White Pelican