, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 1-7

Heavy metal concentrations in feathers of common loons (Gavia immer) in the Northeastern United States and age differences in mercury levels

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Abstract

Feathers serve as a useful, non-destructive approach for biomonitoring some aspects of environmental quality. Birds can eliminate over 90% of their body burden of mercury by sequestration in growing feathers, and they molt their feathers at least annually. Thus mercury concentrations should not vary in avian feathers as a function of age. We tested the null hypothesis that there are no age differences in the concentrations of mercury, lead, cadmium, selenium, copper, chromium and manganese in the feathers of immature and adult common loons Gavia immer from the Northeastern United States where the species is declining. Adults had significantly higher mean levels of mercury (20245 ppb) than immature loons (9677 ppb), but there were no age-related differences for other elements. Even with the small number of immatures, females had significantly higher levels of mercury than males, although the gender difference was not significant for adults.