, Volume 152, Issue 1-4, pp 179-194
Date: 15 Jul 2008

Mercury and other metals in eggs and feathers of glaucous-winged gulls (Larus glaucescens) in the Aleutians

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Abstract

Levels of mercury and other contaminants should be lower in birds nesting on isolated oceanic islands and at high latitudes without any local or regional sources of contamination, compared to more urban and industrialized temperate regions. We examined concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, mercury and selenium in the eggs, and the feathers of fledgling and adult glaucous-winged gulls (Larus glaucescens) nesting in breeding colonies on Adak, Amchitka, and Kiska Islands in the Aleutian Chain of Alaska in the Bering Sea/North Pacific. We tested the following null hypotheses: 1) There were no differences in metal levels among eggs and feathers of adult and fledgling glaucous-winged gulls, 2) There were no differences in metal levels among gulls nesting near the three underground nuclear test sites (Long Shot 1965, Milrow 1969, Cannikin 1971) on Amchitka, 3) There were no differences in metal levels among the three islands, and 4) There were no gender-related differences in metal levels. All four null hypotheses were rejected at the 0.05 level, although there were few differences among the three test sites on Amchitka. Eggs had the lowest levels of cadmium, lead, and mercury, and the feathers of adults had the lowest levels of selenium. Comparing only adults and fledglings, adults had higher levels of cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury, and fledglings had higher levels of arsenic, manganese and selenium. There were few consistent interisland differences, although levels were generally lower for eggs and feathers from gulls on Amchitka compared to the other islands. Arsenic was higher in both adult feathers and eggs from Amchitka compared to Adak, and chromium and lead were higher in adult feathers and eggs from Adak compared to Amchitka. Mercury and arsenic, and chromium and manganese levels were significantly correlated in the feathers of both adult and fledgling gulls. The feathers of males had significantly higher levels of chromium and manganese than did females. The levels of most metals in feathers are below those known to be associated with adverse effects in the gulls or their predators. However, levels of mercury in some gull eggs are within a range suggesting that several eggs should not be eaten in one day by sensitive humans.