1st Student's Major

Biological Sciences

1st Student's College

Science, Engineering and Technology

Students' Professional Biography

Derek Skillings is a student in the Open Studies program at MSU, Mankato; he is concentrating his studies in biology, chemistry and philosophy. He is very active with research in both the biology and philosophy of departments at MSU, Mankato and the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. His research interests include near-shore marine communities, phylogeography, and philosophy of biology and language. He is currently applying for graduate studies in marine biology with goal of a PhD.

Mentor's Name

Robert Sorensen

Mentor's Email Address


Mentor's Department

Biological Sciences

Mentor's College

Science, Engineering and Technology

Other Mentors

Timothy Secott


American coots (Fulica americana) and diving ducks, including lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) and ring-necked ducks (Aythya collaris) have been dying in significant numbers on Lake Onalaska since 2001. Bird mortality is being attributed to parasitic infections from two intestinal trematodes, Cyathocotyle bushiensis and Sphaeridiotrema globulus. The birds begin dying in as little as two weeks of landing at this lake. Rapid mortality is not typically associated with trematode parasitism. Assuming these birds acquired their infections at Lake Onalaska, leads to the conclusion that our current understanding of the disease in this parasite-host system is lacking. Neorickettsiales are a group of pathogenic obligately-parasitic intracellular bacteria that are frequently linked to trematode infections involving invertebrate hosts. There is evidence of Neorickettsiales in Bithynia snails, which is also a necessary host to both trematode species, which suggests a possible link between Neorickettsiales and the unusual mortality in the system at Lake Onalaska. Any conservation management practices that can be applied towards curbing this wildlife epidemic will only start with a complete understanding of all the casual factors. Fluorescently-labeled antibodies were used to search out Neorickettsiales antigens. Prepared tissue sections from infected trematode-infected birds were analyzed with fluorescence microscopy for the presence of Neorickettsiales-like organisms. There was no evidence of Neorickettsiales-like organisms, and new research directions need to be explored to explain unusual system at Lake Onalaska.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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