Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 59, Issue 3, pp 343-358

First online:

Metals in Feathers of Bonin Petrel, Christmas Shearwater, Wedge-Tailed Shearwater, and Red-Tailed Tropicbird in the Hawaian Islands, Northern Pacific

  • M. GochfeldAffiliated withEnvironmental and Community Medicine, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Email author 
  • , D. J. GochfeldAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of HawaiiHofstra University Marine Laboratory
  • , D. MintonAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of HawaiiHofstra University Marine Laboratory
  • , B. G. MurrayJrAffiliated withEcology, Evolution and Natural Resources, Rutgers University
  • , P. PyleAffiliated withPoint Reyes Observatory
  • , N. SetoAffiliated withMidway National Wildlife Refuge
  • , D. SmithAffiliated withDepartment of Forestry and Wildlife
  • , J. BurgerAffiliated withEnvironmental and Occupational Health Sciences InstituteEcology, Evolution and Natural Resources, Rutgers UniversityDivision of Life Sciences, Rutgers University

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Levels of environmental pollutants are usually higher in mainland and coastal areas than in offshore or oceanic islands due to higher inputs from agricultural and industrial sources. Levels of heavy metals are usually higher in adult than in young birds, because they have had longer to accumulate metals in their tissues, and/or because they may eat larger, more contaminated, prey. We examined the levels of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, mercury, and selenium in the adults and young of Bonin petrel (Pterodroma hypoleuca), Christmas shearwater (Puffinus nativitatis) and red-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda) on Midway Atoll, and adult wedge-tailed shearwater (Puffinus pacificus) on Midway Atoll and on Manana Island (off Oahu) in the northern Pacific. All birds were analyzed individually except for Christmas Shearwater chicks where samples were pooled to obtain sufficient quantities for analysis. Significant (p<0.05) age-related differences were found for mercury, selenium, manganese and chromium in Bonin petrels, for selenium and mercury in Christmas shearwaters, and for chromium and mercury in Red-tailed Tropicbirds. Lead approached significance for all three species. Adults had higher levels than young except for chromium and manganese in the petrels and arsenic in all three species. There were significant interspecific differences in concentrations of all metals except arsenic for the adults nesting on Midway. Christmas shearwaters had the highest levels of all metals except mercury and chromium. Bonin petrels, the smallest species examined, had mercury levels that were over three times higher than any of the adults of the other three species. For wedge-tailed shearwaters, levels of chromium and lead were significantly higher, and manganese and selenium were lower on Midway than Manana. Knowledge of the foraging ranges and habits of these far-ranging seabirds is inadequately known, but does not currently explain the observed differences among species. We could not find a consistent pattern of differences between the burrow nesting species (Bonin petrel, Wedge-tailed shearwater) and the surface nesting tropicbirds. There was no consistent pairwise correlation between any metals across all species.

birds environmental pollutants heavy metals