, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 103-116
Date: 14 Aug 2007

Mercury contamination and effects on survival of American avocet and black-necked stilt chicks in San Francisco Bay

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Abstract

We evaluated whether mercury influenced survival of free-ranging American avocet (Recurvirostra americana) and black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) chicks in San Francisco Bay, California. Using radio telemetry, we radio-marked 158 avocet and 79 stilt chicks at hatching and tracked them daily until their fate was determined. We did not find strong support for an influence of in ovo mercury exposure on chick survival, despite observing a wide range of mercury concentrations in chick down feathers at hatching (0.40–44.31 μg g−1 fw). We estimated that chick survival rates were reduced by ≤3% over the range of observed mercury concentrations during the 28-day period from hatching to fledging. We also salvaged newly-hatched chicks that were found dead during routine nest monitoring. In contrast to the telemetry results, we found that mercury concentrations in down feathers of dead chicks were higher than those in randomly-sampled live chicks of similar age. However, capture site was the most important variable influencing mercury concentrations, followed by year, species, and hatching date. Although laboratory studies have demonstrated negative effects of environmentally relevant mercury concentrations on chick survival, our results concur with the small number of previous field studies that have not been able to detect reduced survival in the wild.