Campus News

Ecologist discusses harmful algae’s effect on eagles

For more than a decade, a toxic algae has been poisoning and killing birds throughout the South.

In 2001, Susan Wilde, an associate professor in UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, discovered how hydrilla, an invasive plant, was carrying a deadly bacteria that was causing brain lesions in bald eagles. She recounted her story to the Tampa Bay Times. It turned out that smaller waterfowl, like coots, were eating algae-covered hydrilla.

“(Those birds) would get sick and start flopping around,” she said, “and they would be easy prey for the eagles to eat.”

Wilde explained that eagles typically eat fish but would not miss a chance to eat the vulnerable coots. It was a costly mistake for the eagles, which became infected with the bacteria.

“All the birds die within 24 hours,” Wilde said.

Wilde and other ecologists are studying the algae and looking for ways to curb its effects.