, Volume 17, Issue 8, pp 789-801

Survival of postfledging Forster’s terns in relation to mercury exposure in San Francisco Bay

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Abstract

We examined factors influencing mercury concentrations in 90 fledgling Forster’s terns (Sterna forsteri) and evaluated whether mercury influenced postfledging survival in San Francisco Bay, California. Mercury concentrations (±SE) in chicks 21–29 days old (just before fledging) were 0.33 ± 0.01 μg g−1 ww for blood and 6.44 ± 0.28 μg g−1 fw for breast feathers. Colony site had an overriding influence on fledgling contamination, however hatching date and age also affected blood, but not feather, mercury concentrations. Blood mercury concentrations decreased by 28% during the 50-day hatching period and increased with chick age by 30% during the last week prior to fledging. Using radio-telemetry, we calculated that cumulative survival during the 35-day postfledging time period was 0.81 ± 0.09 (SE). Postfledging survival rates increased with size-adjusted mass, and cumulative survival probability was 61% lower for terns with the lowest, compared to the highest, observed masses. Conversely, survival was not influenced by blood mercury concentration, time since fledging, sex, or hatch date. Mercury concentrations in breast feathers of fledglings found dead at nesting colonies also were no different than those in live chicks. Our results indicate that colony site, hatching date, and age influenced mercury concentrations in fledgling Forster’s terns, but that mercury did not influence postfledging survival.