Lead, mercury, and cadmium in feathers of tropical terns in Puerto Rico and Australia

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Levels of lead, cadmium, and mercury were examined in breast feathers of terns nesting on offshore islets near Culebra, Puerto Rico and on Michaelmas Cay and Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Levels of all metals in these tropical terns were predicted to be lower than those of terns nesting in temperate regions, because the tropical species feed offshore of non-industrial areas where contamination should be less than for temperate-nesting species that feed in inshore estuaries near industrialized areas. This prediction was not supported by the evidence. In Puerto Rico, lead and cadmium levels were highest in bridled tern (Sterna anaethetus), and mercury levels were highest in sooty (S. fuscata) and roseate tern (S. dougallii). In Australia, levels of lead and mercury were higher in black noddy (A. minutus) and lower for sooty tern; and cadmium levels were highest for brown noddy (A. stolidus) and sooty tern, and lowest for black noddy. Metal levels for the tropical terns nesting in Puerto Rico and Australia generally were not lower than levels reported for temperate-nesting or mainland nesting birds (except for mercury in Australia).