Date: 28 Mar 2013

Assessment of Trace Elements and Stable Isotopes of Three Ardeid Species at Birama Swamp, Cuba

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Abstract

The Birama Swamp is the second largest wetland in the Caribbean region and it is inhabited by large populations of waterbirds. Here we report, for the first time, the foraging ecology and pollutant levels of three Ardeidae species: Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis), Snowy egret (Egretta thula), and Tricolored heron (E. tricolor) breeding in this wetland using stable-isotope (δ 15N and δ 13C) and trace elements [mercury (Hg), lead (Pb), and selenium (Se)] analysis of chick feathers. Our results showed that individuals from all species occupied similar trophic levels. However, we found significant differences for δ 13C, with the highest values in cattle egret indicating its use of terrestrial habitats and a generalist and opportunist behavior. No significant differences were found for Pb among species. Yet, Hg levels were greater and similar in tricolored heron and snowy egret than in cattle egret, which was associated with their greater use of aquatic environments. Snowy egret had the lowest values of Se differing significantly with the other two species suggesting a different relative use of prey type. Modeling log-Hg concentration in relation to δ 15N and δ 13C showed an independent and significant relationship among species but without interaction with species level indicating that within a particular species, higher Hg levels were associated with higher δ 15N values. There was no interaction between δ 15N and δ 13C in the general linear models for Se and Pb in all species. We found an association between δ 15N and species in Pb for snowy egret. The foraging habitat use of these species and the low levels of pollutants, which are lower than in other similar habitats in other areas of the world, indicated that there is not risk of negative effects in juvenile birds of the Birama Swamp colony that may impair their survival. Our results can be used as a baseline to achieve management regulations.