Heavy metal and metallothionein concentrations in Atlantic Canadian seabirds

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Abstract

Seabird tissues, collected during the 1988 breeding season from colonies on the Atlantic coast of Canada, were analyzed for toxic metals—Cd, Hg and Pb—and 18 other trace elements. Metallothionein (MT) was measured in kidney, and kidneys and livers underwent histopathological examination. Levels of most essential trace elements appear to be closely regulated in seabird tissues; values were in good agreement with those previously reported in the published literature. Liver-Se concentrations in Leach's storm-petrels (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) (77.6+7.49 μg/g dry weight) were much higher than values normally reported for freeliving birds and mammals. Cd levels varied greatly among individuals, but were always higher in kidney than in liver. Highest mean Cd concentrations (183+65 μg/g dry weight) were in kidneys of the planktivorous Leach's storm-petrels from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A few individuals of this species had values >300 μg/g dry weight. Cd and metallothionein (MT) concentrations were positively correlated in kidneys of Leach's storm-petrels (r=0.692), Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) (r=0.845) and herring gull (Larus argentatus) (r=0.866). Concentrations of total Hg varied greatly among species and individuals, but were consistently higher in liver than in kidney. Highest mean levels (21+28 μg/g) were in livers of the piscivorous double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) from Saint John Harbour in the Bay of Fundy. Concentrations of Hg and Se were positively correlated (r=0.736) in livers of Leach's storm-petrel, but not in other species. Pb concentrations were consistently greatest in bone, with mean levels being highest in herring gulls from a colony in the Bay of Fundy (63+36 μg/g). Histological examination of liver and kidney failed to reveal indications of tissue damage associated with elevated levels of heavy metals.