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Clarkson University Is Conducting Survey Of Botulism In The St. Lawrence River

[A photograph for newspaper use is available at]

Clarkson University – In response to recent reports of an avian botulism outbreak in eastern Lake Ontario and the Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence River, Clarkson University assistant professors of biology and Center for the Environment affiliates Michael R. Twiss and Tom A. Langen have mobilized to investigate this emerging threat to environmental health.Lavinia

Twiss, director of Clarkson’s Great Rivers Center, is currently leading the first of two surveys of a 90-mile reach of the St. Lawrence River from Massena to Cape Vincent that involves more than 500 nautical miles of coverage on each survey. “We need to document the extent of the outbreak from the onset, which is happening now, to its peak, which should happen later in the fall if this event follows the course of outbreaks that have occurred in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario in recent years,” states Twiss.  The surveys will involve collecting, identifying and recording the location of all dead- and ill-affected animals, in addition to measuring water quality. 

Langen is a key member of the research team. An expert ornithologist, Langen will lead the water bird survey. “One important issue is the impact that the botulism outbreak has on specific types of birds. Most likely to be afflicted are birds that feed on fish, mollusks or scavenge on carcasses. Our efforts at spotting and mapping the location of ill and dead birds will aid in understanding how botulism epidemics spread, and assist in piecing together the mechanisms by which a microbe that lives in the river bottom can be transferred to birds,” remarked Langen.

“We are assisting the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in their efforts to understand and manage this outbreak. In addition, we have developed research techniques to apply to this effort, such as water bird survey methods for estimating the community structure and abundance of birds in this area, and water quality analysis that is conducted using advanced automated instruments onboard the Great Rivers Center’s research vessel, the R/V Lavinia. Our efforts are being coordinated with other university researchers and the NYSDEC so that we can maximize the usefulness or our research at explaining how this disease is spreading into the river.”

Twiss and Langen are concerned that the botulism that has spread from Lake Huron in 1998 will become resident in Lake St. Lawrence, the large fluvial lake created by the Moses-Saunders Dam at Massena, and harm the river sturgeon presently on the road to recovery.

For additional information, contact Michael Twiss on his mobile phone onboard R/V Lavinia from August 25 – 27 at 315-212-3153 (marine radio channel 16), 315-268-2359, or

PHOTO CAPTION:  Researchers onboard the R/V Lavinia, the primary research vessel of Clarkson University, investigate water quality, birds and fish affected by the recent outbreak of Type E botulism on the St. Lawrence River.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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