Mercury in livers of wading birds (ciconiiformes) in southern Florida

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Abstract

Mercury was measured in livers from 144 wading birds representing seven species collected from four different areas in southern Flordia, including the Everglades National Park. Significant differences in hepatic mercury concentrations were identified between birds collected from different geographic locations, birds of different ages, dietary factors, and relative amounts of body fat. Birds collected from an area encompassing the central Everglades and eastern Florida Bay had significantly greater concentrations of hepatic mercury than did birds from other collection areas. Livers from fledgling and young adult birds contained approximately three times the concentration of mercury as livers from nestling birds. Bird species whose prey base consists of larger fish were found to have approximately four times the hepatic concentration of mercury as did those species which consume smaller fish or crustaceans. Birds with minimal to moderate amounts of body fat had two to three times the concentration of hepatic mercury as birds with relatively abundant body fat reserves. Four great blue herons collected from the central Everglades contained liver mercury at concentrations typically associated with overt neurologic signs (⩾30 μg/g). Between 30% and 80% of potential breeding-age birds collected from this area contained hepatic mercury at concentrations associated with reproductive impairment in ducks and pheasants. These data suggest that declining numbers of nesting ciconiiform birds in Florida may be due, in part, to mecury contamination of their food supply.