Since 2001, hundreds of bald eagles have been found dead near lakes in Arkansas. Their deaths, and later the deaths of other waterfowl, amphibians and fish, were the result of a neurological disease that led to the formation of cavities in the white matter of their brain. Now scientists have discovered that it has been killing bald eagles for over 20 years.
Field and laboratory studies over the past 20 years have revealed the main clues to wildlife: the death of eagles and waterfowl occurs in late autumn and winter in reservoirs with excess invasive aquatic weeds, and birds can die within five days after arriving at such a lake.
But until recently, the toxin that caused the disease, vacuolar myelinopathy, was unknown. Now, after years spent identifying a new toxic blue-green species of algae (cyanobacteria) and isolating the toxic compound, scientists have confirmed the structure of this toxin.