, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 229-251

Geographical distribution of organochlorine contaminants and reproductive parameters in Herring Gulls on Lake Superior in 1983

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As part of the Great Lakes International Surveillance Plan, 1978–83, egg contaminant levels and reproductive output were determined for Herring Gull colonies on Lake Superior in 1983. Since 1974, the Herring Gull has been widely used in the Great Lakes as a spatial and temporal monitor of organochlorine (OC) contaminant levels and associated biological effects. Most eggs contained a wide range of OCs, the main compounds being DDE, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dieldrin, heptachlor epoxide, oxychlordane, hexachlorobenzene and mirex. Levels of an additional ten OCs and five polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin (PCDD) congeners were also determined for some sites. Overall, levels varied significantly among colonies, but there was no obvious relationship to spatial distribution of contaminants in sediments or fish species. OC levels in eggs had declined by up to 84% since 1974. Eggshells were only 8% thinner than before the introduction of DDT, and shell thinning was not a cause of breeding failure. Average reproductive output varied from 0.15 to 1.57 young per apparently occupied nest in 1983: at 56% of colonies the value was below that thought necessary to maintain stable populations. The main causes of failure were egg disappearence and cannibalism of chicks. Despite this, the population appeared to have been increasing at about 4% per annum. Reduced availability of forage fish during the early 1980s was the most likely reason for the poor reproductive output in 1983.