The impact of Aetokhonos hydrillicola on avian species

Man-made reservoirs throughout the Southeast have become infested with the invasive aquatic plant, hydrilla, (Hydrilla verticillata), which hosts a new species of toxic cyanobacteria. Waterfowl and birds of prey, most notably the American coot (Fulica americana), and bald eagle, (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), can consume the neurotoxin and die—within this unsuitable toxic habitat.

Dr. Susan Wilde, associate professor of aquatic science in the Warnell School of Forestry, and multidisciplinary collaborators recently characterized a new toxin that is made by the novel cyanobacteria that she also described. Wilde got to name the cyanobacteria. She chose Aetokthonos hydrillicola, which is Greek and Latin for “eagle killer, living on hydrilla.”

Aetokthonos hydrillicola afflicts waterfowl and its predators with the fatal disease Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy (AVM), which affects them neurologically.