• Descamps, Sebastien
  • Jenouvrier, Stéphanie
  • Gilchrist, H. Grant
  • Forbes, Mark R.


Evidence that infectious diseases cause wildlife population extirpation or extinction remains anecdotal and it is unclear whether the impacts of a pathogen at the individual level can scale up to population level so drastically. Here, we quantify the response of a Common eider colony to emerging epidemics of avian cholera, one of the most important infectious diseases affecting wild waterfowl. We show that avian cholera has the potential to drive colony extinction, even over a very short period. Extinction depends on disease severity (the impact of the disease on adult female survival) and disease frequency (the number of annual epidemics per decade). In case of epidemics of high severity (i.e., causing >30% mortality of breeding females), more than one outbreak per decade will be unsustainable for the colony and will likely lead to extinction within the next century; more than four outbreaks per decade will drive extinction to within 20 years. Such severity and frequency of avian cholera are already observed, and avian cholera might thus represent a significant threat to viability of breeding populations. However, this will depend on the mechanisms underlying avian cholera transmission, maintenance, and spread, which are currently only poorly known.


Since 2005, avian cholera outbreaks have occurred annually, but with different severities (i.e., the magnitude of its effect on adult female survival) on the breeding grounds of a Common eider colony located in the low Arctic, called hereafter the East Bay population [16], [17]. The observed mass mortalities were clearly the result of an infectious disease (Fig. 1). Annual laboratory analyses of a sample of eider carcasses confirmed that P. multocida caused the death [18], [19] and hundreds of dying eiders presented the symptoms of infection by P. multocida . To study the consequences of these epidemics on population dynamics of common eiders at East Bay we estimated survival and breeding parameters in relation to avian cholera, and developed a population model. We determined whether or not epidemics of avian cholera were sustainable for this colony through a stochastic modeling approach for different outbreak severities [13], [20]. We examined the effect of cholera on both the long term population growth rate and on short-term transient population projections.