July 8, 2016
By Bryan Watts, Center for Conservation Biology
Blood is a universal diagnostic tissue used to monitor a dizzying and expanding array of health indicators in humans. Blood is particularly attractive as an indicator tissue because it is relatively easy and non-invasive to collect and it contains a host of constituents that have been shown to reflect a wide range of health conditions such as organ function, disease exposure, nutritional status, and cancer activity. The ongoing increase in the number of health questions that may be addressed using only a blood sample is astounding.
Aside from the value of blood for veterinarian diagnostic purposes in pets and wildlife, bird blood has been used for decades to address a long list of ecological questions and to monitor environmental health. Over the years, CCB biologists have collected blood from a long list of species often in collaboration with partners to monitor contaminant exposure in species of conservation concern or to investigate ecological questions.
During the spring of 2016, CCB, in collaboration with the National Park Service, began a two-year investigation of contaminant exposure in eagles breeding on park service lands within the Chesapeake Bay. Blood samples were collected from nestling eagles to investigate exposure to heavy metals and organic compounds. The study is a sister project with a similar investigation on park service lands in the Great Lakes. During their 100th anniversary year, the National Park Service continues to pursue an ethic of land stewardship that is a model for all.