Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 118, Issue 1, pp 355–368

Little Egrets (Egretta Garzetta) and Trace-Metal Contamination in Wetlands of China


  • Y. Zhang
    • School of Life SciencesLanzhou University
  • L. Ruan
    • School of Life SciencesLanzhou University
    • Dipartimento Biologia AnimaleUniversità
  • E. Boncompagni
    • Dipartimento Biologia AnimaleUniversità
  • Y. Dong
    • Institute of Soil ScienceChinese Academy Sciences
  • N. Dai
    • School of Life SciencesLanzhou University
  • C. Gandini
    • Dipartimento Chimica FarmaceuticaUniversità
  • E. Orvini
    • Dipartimento Chimica GeneraleUniversità
  • Xavier Ruiz
    • Departamento Biologia AnimalUniversidad de Barcelona

DOI: 10.1007/s10661-006-1496-4

Cite this article as:
Zhang, Y., Ruan, L., Fasola, M. et al. Environ Monit Assess (2006) 118: 355. doi:10.1007/s10661-006-1496-4


The rapidly developing Asian countries may face threatening environmental contamination, that however remains largely unassessed. We studied persistent trace elements in three wetlands, Poyang Lake, relatively unpolluted, and Tai Lake, and Pearl River Delta, selected as hotspots of pollution in Central China. We adopted as indicator the Little Egret, a widespread colonial waterbird, and during 1999 and 2000 we collected and analysed the same samples as for a parallel study we conducted in Pakistan, e.g. eggs, body feathers of chicks, prey spontaneously regurgitated by the chicks, and sediments at the areas most used by foraging egrets. The levels of trace-metals at our three study areas were similar, or within the range, of those found in the few other studies for East Asia, with few exceptions. The concentrations of the various elements were below the threshold that may affect the survival or reproduction of the birds, and even the highest concentrations relative to background, i.e. Se in eggs, and Hg in feathers at Pearl Delta, do not pose toxic hazards. In sediments, the levels of trace elements were lower than the critical levels assumed for contaminated soil, except for alarming high levels of As at Poyang. These results do not confirm our expectation, that Poyang was relatively uncontaminated, while Tai and Pearl were polluted. Although trace metal concentration differed significantly among the three study areas, these differences were minor and were not consistent among elements and samples. The bioaccumulation ratios from sediments through prey, feather and egg, were consistent with our previous findings for Pakistan. Only Hg exhibited high bioaccumulation, while Se and Zn had low accumulation, and the other elements no accumulation. This reasserts that feathers of predators such as egrets, may be more sensitive indicators of environmental contamination for the elements subject to bioaccumulation, whereas the sediments or the organisms low in the food chain are better indicators for the other elements.


bioaccumulationChinacontaminationEgretta garzettatrace-elementswaterbirds
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© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2006