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Wildlife and forestry research
Learn about wildlife and forestry research
Banding and sampling eaglets for contaminants.

Banding and sampling eaglets for contaminants.

Banded eaglets in a nest, Door County peninsula.

Banded eaglets in a nest, Door County peninsula.

Satellite transmitters allow DNR and USGS researchers to track loons during migration and on the wintering grounds.

Satellite transmitters allow DNR and USGS researchers to track loons during migration and on the wintering grounds.

Necropsy work shows approximately 20% of Wisconsin's loon mortality is due to lead toxicity associated with ingestion of fishing tackle.

Necropsy work shows approximately 20% of Wisconsin's loon mortality is due to lead toxicity associated with ingestion of fishing tackle.

Wildlife and Forestry Research - Toxicology

A new wildlife toxicology program was initiated in 1991 - the Wisconsin Wildlife Biosentinel Program. This program is an "early warning system" where sensitive wildlife are monitored to identify populations impacted by toxic substances such as PCBs, mercury, lead, and dioxin in Wisconsin.

This program evaluated the impacts of PCB's and other contaminants on Bald Eagle and Osprey populations in Wisconsin resulting in a protocol for using Bald Eagles as a biosentinal of aquatic ecosystem health in both the U.S. and Canada. In the 1990s, there were few eagles nesting along Green Bay, Lake Michigan, and the lower Fox River shorelines - and those present were exposed to high levels of PCBs and other contaminants. Recently, the population has soared in numbers and productivity, and preliminary results show contaminant exposure has dramatically declined.

The program also evaluated the role of mercury as a stressor in Common Loon populations, resulting in a population model predicting the amount of mercury that can be in the environment before it will cause common loon population declines. Mercury exposure patterns are also evaluated - twenty years of sampling has shown loon adult and chick mercury exposure declined through the 1990s, but has recently increased - and exposure is highest on low pH seepage lakes. In addition, research projects are evaluating the effects of lead and botulism toxicity on Wisconsin's loon population.

This program has expanded the department's capability to understand and deal with the effects of harmful substances released into the environment on wildlife populations.

Wildlife and forestry researchers are currently involved with the following projects relating to toxicology research:

Wisconsin as a National Mercury Monitoring site

Federal legislation has been proposed to develop a national mercury monitoring network (MERCNet). In this project we develop a long-term mercury monitoring plan for wildlife in Wisconsin by synthesizing existing data (1990 - 2012) with new data generated by analysis of archived loon and eagle tissues. We are working with scientists from other agencies to promote Wisconsin as a potential long-term mercury monitoring site under pending federal legislation to create a national mercury monitoring network.

Project timeline: 1992 - ongoing

Lead DNR scientist: Michael Meyer

Evaluating the risk to native fisheries of the use of liquid herbicides(2,4-D) to control Eurasian Watermilfoil in Wisconsin lakes

DNR Science Services assisted in the development of a $100K Wisconsin Aquatic Invasive Species grant to evaluate the impact of liquid herbicides to control Eurasian Watermilfoil in Wisconsin lakes. DNR Science Services serves as science liaison between DNR and UW as the grant is implemented. Dosing experiments are being conducted at UW Water Sciences by Ph.D candidate Zachery DeQuatro, under the guidance of Dr. William Karasov, UW-Forestry and Wildlife Ecology, to evaluate the impact of ecologically relevant concentrations of liquid 2,4-D herbicide on fathead minnow reproduction, a native forage fish found throughout Wisconsin. Results will help guide permit criteria for the application of these herbicides in Wisconsin lakes.

Project timeline: 2011 - 2013

Lead DNR scientist: Michael Meyer

Assessing the potential population effects of Botulism E toxin and Gulf oil exposure on migrating Wisconsin waterbirds

DNR Science Services received $25K grant from the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Recovery Initiative to co-investigate (DNR WM and Science Services) the impact of Type E botulism (BotE) on migrating waterbirds in Wisconsin. Funds are used to survey for dead birds along the Lake Michigan shoreline in the autumn as well as to document the annual return rates of color-banded common loons which are at risk to the toxicity. DNR collaborated with USGS UMESC La Crosse to place 13 satellite transmitters and 78 geolocators on adult loons breeding in Wisconsin. The goal is to identify migration routes, foraging patterns in the Great Lakes, and wintering areas in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coasts. This data will be used to evaluate the proportion of WI loons using regions of Lake Michigan impacted by Botulism E as well as Gulf of Mexico coastal areas impacted by the 2010 BP oil spill.

Project timeline: 2007 - 2014

Lead DNR scientists: Michael Meyer and Sean Strom

Evaluate the impact of legacy polychlorinated bioaccumulating toxic substances (PCBs, DDE, PBDE, PFOS, PFOA) on Wisconsin's Great Lakes bald eagle population
- Wisconsin Bald Eagle Biosentinel Project

DNR Science Services initiated the Wisconsin Bald Eagle Biosentinel Program in 1990, and has since tracked the dramatic increase in abundance and productivity of Wisconsin's Great Lakes population, as well as the concurrent decline in exposure to toxic substances such as PCBs and DDT. This eagle population was seriously impacted by contaminant exposure in the 1960's and 1970's when the Wisconsin Great Lakes population declined to fewer than 10 breeding pair. The number now exceeds 50 breeding pair, and contaminant exposure levels, primarily PCBs and DDE, have declined dramatically.

Project timeline: 1990 - ongoing

Lead DNR scientist: Michael Meyer

Assess the impact of mercury exposure on Wisconsin's Common Loon population

Cooperating with the DNR Wildlife Management health team to quantify the population level effects of lead fishing tackle ingestion on common loons breeding in Wisconsin. Wildlife Management is necropsying all loons found dead in Wisconsin and Minnesota to quantify the proportion succumbing to lead toxicity; DNR Science Services will evaluate the potential population level effects via simulations of the Wisconsin Loon Population Model, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management September 2009.

Project timeline: 1998 - 2014

Lead DNR scientist: Michael Meyer

Assessing the population effects of lead fishing tackle on fish-eating wildlife in Wisconsin

Cooperating with DNR Wildlife Management health team to quantify the population level effects of lead fishing tackle ingestion on common loons breeding in Wisconsin. WM is necropsying all loons found dead in Wisconsin and Minnesota to quantify the proportion succumbing to lead toxicity, DNR Science Services will evaluate the potential population level effects via simulations of the Wisconsin Loon Population Model, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management September 2009.

Project timeline: 2006 - 2014

Lead DNR scientist: Michael Meyer

Last revised: Tuesday March 31 2015