Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science

Degree Name

Marine Science

First Advisor

Amy Hirons

Second Advisor

David Kerstetter

Third Advisor

Mike Adkesson


Seabirds, Diseases, Contaminants, Environmental stressors


Diseases and contaminants found along the South American marine environment are known to impact important seabird species, including the Peruvian pelican (Pelecanus thagus), Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti), Guanay cormorant (Phalacrocorax bougainvillii), Peruvian booby (Sula variegate), and Inca tern (Larosterna inca). These seabirds are primarily found along the coast of Peru where they compete for nest sites and prey. The Punta San Juan guano reserve, where these species are located, is affected by periodic environmental fluctuations such as El Niño and La Niña. These fluctuations cause changes in wind patterns and sea surface temperatures which lead to a reduction in prey availability. Major diseases and viruses have led to reductions in populations. The introduction of Lyme disease, avian malaria, Newcastle disease, and avian influenza A have the potential to greatly affect the local seabirds. Flaviviruses such as West Nile virus and eastern, western, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis affect South American seabirds ranging from Peru to Argentina. Parasites are a common vector for some disease transmission. Ticks and mosquitos are common transmitters of arthropod bourne viruses. Although some of these disease have not been found affecting seabirds in Peru, changing environmental conditions could lead to the introduction of migratory birds that will transmit the disease through infected arthropods and birds. The conditions caused by these diseases include weakness of the body, paralysis, severe respiratory issues, blindness, and possible mortality. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), organochlorine pesticides (OCPs), persistent organic pollutants (POPs), and perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) cause internal body damage, leading to population declines. Environmental and anthropogenic stressors increase the effects of the diseases and contaminants. As prey reduction occurs and leads to longer foraging trips, the bodies of the seabirds become weak, which allows the diseases and organic and inorganic contaminants to have a greater impact on their overall health. The combination of environmental stressors, diseases, and contaminants can lead to critical population changes to the endemic species of Punta San Juan.

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