After examining specimens of Galapagos birds dating more than a century back, researchers have concluded that avian pox first hit the Galapagos Islands in 1898. To determine this date, researchers searched for skin lesions in dated bird specimens, using tissue examination and genotyping to determine if the birds were infected with avian pox.
Knowledge about the history of avian pox is expected to help researchers better understand the diseases that currently affect birds on the Galapagos. In addition, by explaining when the disease unfolded, it gives Galapagos researchers more information about how human arrival to the Galapagos may have impacted the health of Galapagos birds in the past. This knowledge is useful because it can help explain how negative human impacts that may facilitate the spread of avian disease can be avoided in the future.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of this project was that the researchers were not even on the Galapagos Islands to figure all of this out. They dated avian pox by examining museum specimens from the California Academy of Sciences and the Zoologische Staatssammlung in Munich. This highlights how preserved specimens can help us to answer important questions about their living counterparts.