Original Contribution


, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 409-425

First online:

Marine Foraging Birds As Bioindicators of Mercury in the Gulf of Maine

  • M. Wing GoodaleAffiliated withBioDiversity Research Institute Email author 
  • , David C. EversAffiliated withBioDiversity Research Institute
  • , Steven E. MierzykowskiAffiliated withMaine Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • , Alexander L. BondAffiliated withAtlantic Cooperative Wildlife Ecology Research Network, University of New BrunswickDepartment of Biology, Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • , Neil M. BurgessAffiliated withCanadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada
  • , Catherine I. OtorowskiAffiliated withAtlantic Cooperative Wildlife Ecology Research Network, University of New Brunswick
  • , Linda J. WelchAffiliated withMaine Coastal Islands NWR, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • , C. Scott HallAffiliated withNational Audubon Society
  • , Julie C. EllisAffiliated withDepartment of Environmental and Population Health, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University
    • , R. Bradford AllenAffiliated withMaine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
    • , Anthony W. DiamondAffiliated withAtlantic Cooperative Wildlife Ecology Research Network, University of New Brunswick
    • , Stephen W. KressAffiliated withNational Audubon Society
    • , Robert J. TaylorAffiliated withBioDiversity Research InstituteTrace Element Research Lab, Texas A&M University

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From existing databases, we compiled and evaluated 604 total mercury (Hg) levels in the eggs and blood of 17 species of marine foraging birds from 35 Gulf of Maine islands to provide baseline data and to determine the best tissue, age class, and species for future biomonitoring. While mean Hg levels in most species did not exceed adverse effects thresholds, levels in some individual eggs did; for all species arithmetic mean egg Hg levels ranged from 0.04 to 0.62 (μg/g, wet weight). Piscivorous birds had higher Hg levels than invertivores. Leach’s storm-petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa), razorbill (Alca torda), and black guillemot (Cepphus grylle) adult blood and egg Hg levels were higher than other species. Our results indicate that adult blood is preferable to chick blood for detecting long-term temporal trends because adult levels are higher and not confounded by metabolic effects. However, since we found that eggs and adult blood are comparable indicators of methylmercury bioavailability, we determined that eggs are the preferred tissue for long-term Hg monitoring because the relative ease in collecting eggs ensures consistent and robust datasets. We suggest specific sampling methods, and based on our results demonstrate that common eider (Somateria mollissima), Leach’s storm-petrel, double-crested cormorant, and black guillemot are the most effective bioindicators of Hg of the Gulf of Maine.


mercury seabirds waterbirds Gulf of Maine bioindicators