Metals in feathers of brown noddy (Anous stolidus): Evidence for bioaccumulation or exposure levels?
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Levels of environmental pollution are generally assumed to be greater in nearshore and estuarine habitats compared to the open ocean. This difference presumably derives from high inputs from industrial and agricultural sources entering estuaries and bays from rivers and as direct runoff. This suggests that levels of heavy metals should be higher in birds that obtain their food resources from nearshore habitats rather than the open ocean far from land. I compared the levels of lead, cadmium, mercury and selenium in feathers of young and adult brown noddies (Anous stolidus) along the coast of Oahu, Hawaii. Prior to fledging, young noddies obtain all their food resources from their parents that bring back fish and squid from a few km offshore, whereas adults spend much of the year outside the breeding season on the open ocean, where they obtain most of the metals that accumulate in their feathers. For all metals, the young noddies had lower levels than adults. These data do not support the hypothesis that heavy metal pollution is greater nearshore than on the open ocean, but further investigation is needed to distinguish simple biaccumulation with age from differential exposure by habitat, and contamination from the birds own secretions during preening and from the outside.
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