Organochlorine Contaminant Exposure and Reproductive Success of Black-Crowned Night-Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) Nesting inBaltimore Harbor, Maryland

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Abstract

The declining size of the Baltimore Harbor black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) colony has been hypothesized to be linked to polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) exposure. In 1998, a “sample egg” was collected from 65 black-crowned night-heron nests (each containing ≥ three eggs) for contaminant analysis, and the remaining eggs in these 65 nests, plus four two-egg nests, were monitored for hatching and fledging success. Eggs were also collected from 12 nests at Holland Island, a reference site in southern Chesapeake Bay. Samples were analyzed for 26 organochlorine pesticides and metabolities and 145 PCB congeners. Pesticide and metabolite concentrations, including p,p'-DDE, were well below thresholds associated with adverse reproductive effects at both sites. Average concentration of total PCBs, 12 Ah receptor–active PCB congeners, and toxic equivalents in eggs from Baltimore Harbor were greater (up to 35-fold) than that observed in Holland Island samples. Overall nest success at the Baltimore Harbor heronry was estimated by the Mayfield method to be 0.74, and the mean number of young fledged/hen was 2.05, which is within published productivity estimates for maintaining a stable black-crowned night-heron population. Using logistic regression, no significant relationships were found between organochlorine contaminant concentrations in sample eggs and hatching, fledging, or overall reproductive success. Processes other than poor reproduction (e.g., low postfledging survival, emigration, habitat degradation) may be responsible for the declining size of the Baltimore Harbor colony.

Received: 26 October 2000/Accepted: 9 January 2001