, Volume 14, Issue 1-2, pp 241-252

Mercury and other Contaminants in Common Loons Breeding in Atlantic Canada

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Abstract

Common loons (Gavia immer) were studied to assess the biomagnification of persistent contaminants in lake ecosystems in Atlantic Canada. Forty-two breeding adults and 20 juvenile loons were captured in August, 1995–1997 on lakes in four areas of southern New Brunswick (Lepreau and Fundy National Park) and Nova Scotia (Halifax and Kejimkujik National Park). Blood samples were collected for analysis of mercury, methylmercury, lead, and selenium. Plasma samples from adult loons were analyzed for PCB congeners and organochlorine pesticides. Secondary flight feathers were collected from adult loons for mercury analysis. Kejimkujik loons had significantly higher geometric mean concentrations of mercury in blood (adults: 5.5 μg/g, wet wt) and feathers (adults: 15 μg/g, fresh wt), and higher levels of PCBs, DDE, oxychlordane, trans-nonachlor, mirex and hexachlorobenzene than loons at Halifax or Lepreau. Blood selenium levels were lowest in Kejimkujik loons. Selenium and mercury concentrations were negatively related in blood of adults across all sites. Adult males had higher concentrations of mercury in blood and feathers and PCBs, DDE, and oxychlordane in plasma, and lower levels of selenium in blood, than adult females. Juvenile loons had lower blood mercury and selenium concentrations than adults. Several contaminants showed significant inter-lake variation within the study sites. Mean blood mercury concentrations in Kejimkujik loons are the highest found in breeding common loons across North America. Of adult loons at Kejimkujik, 92% had blood mercury levels >4 μg/g (wet wt), which have been associated with impaired reproduction, elevated corticosterone levels, asymmetry in plumage development, and altered breeding behavior in loons there and elsewhere.