Emerging infectious diseases are a growing concern in wildlife conservation. Documenting outbreak patterns and determining the ecological drivers of transmission risk are fundamental to predicting disease spread and assessing potential impacts on population viability. However, evaluating disease in wildlife populations requires expansive surveillance networks that often do not exist in remote and developing areas. Here, we describe the results of a community-based research initiative conducted in collaboration with indigenous harvesters, the Inuit, in response to a new series of Avian Cholera outbreaks affecting Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima) and other comingling species in the Canadian Arctic. Avian Cholera is a virulent disease of birds caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida. Common Eiders are a valuable subsistence resource for Inuit, who hunt the birds for meat and visit breeding colonies during the summer to collect eggs and feather down for use in clothing and blankets. We compiled the observations of harvesters about the growing epidemic and with their assistance undertook field investigation of 131 colonies distributed over >1200 km of coastline in the affected region. Thirteen locations were identified where Avian Cholera outbreaks have occurred since 2004. Mortality rates ranged from 1% to 43% of the local breeding population at these locations. Using a species-habitat model (Maxent), we determined that the distribution of outbreak events has not been random within the study area and that colony size, vegetation cover, and a measure of host crowding in shared wetlands were significantly correlated to outbreak risk. In addition, outbreak locations have been spatially structured with respect to hypothesized introduction foci and clustered along the migration corridor linking Arctic breeding areas with wintering areas in Atlantic Canada. At present, Avian Cholera remains a localized threat to Common Eider populations in the Arctic; however expanded, community-based surveillance will be required to track disease spread.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Arctic, Avian cholera, Common eider, Conservation, Emerging infectious disease, Inuit, Maxent, Participatory surveillance, Species-habitat model
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-08873-210412
Journal Ecology and Society
Iverson, S.A. (Samuel A.), Forbes, M, Simard, M. (Manon), Soos, C. (Catherine), & Gilchrist, H.G. (2016). Avian cholera emergence in arctic-nesting northern Common Eiders: Using community-based, participatory surveillance to delineate disease outbreak patterns and predict transmission risk. Ecology and Society, 21(4). doi:10.5751/ES-08873-210412