Selenium teratogenesis in natural populations of aquatic birds in Central California

  • David J. Hoffman
  • Harry M. Ohlendorf
  • Thomas W. Aldrich


The frequency and types of malformations are described that were encountered during the spring of 1983 in a natural population of aquatic birds exposed to agricultural drainwater ponds and food items containing high concentrations of selenium in central California. A total of 347 nests of aquatic birds containing 1,681 eggs was selected for study at Kesterson Reservoir located in the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Merced County, California. Embryos collected during incubation or from eggs that failed to hatch were examined to determine the age at death and presence of malformations. Embryonic death was generally high; approximately 17–60% of the nests of different species contained at least one dead embryo. The incidence of malformed embryos was also high; approximately 22–65% of the nests where at least two embryos were examined contained abnormal embryos. American coots (Fulica americana) and black-necked stilts (Himantopus mexicanus) experienced the highest incidence of malformed embryos. For all species, the average percentage of eggs containing dead or live abnormal embryos was 16.1 whereas the average percentage containing live abnormal embryos was 10.7. Multiple gross malformations of the eyes, brain, and feet were often present. Brain defects included hydrocephaly and exencephaly. Eye defects included both unilateral and bilateral anophthalmia and microphthalmia. Eye and foot defects with ectrodactyly and swollen joints were the most common in coots. Beak defects also occurred frequently and most often included incomplete development of the lower beak of ducks (Anas spp.) and stilts. Wing and leg defects were most prevalent in stilts and ducks, with ectromelia and amelia most prevalent in stilts. Other malformations occurring at lower frequencies included enlarged hearts with thin ventricular walls, liver hypopiasia, and gastroschisis. Based upon simultaneous examination of a control population of aquatic birds of the same species and published studies, the incidences of embryonic mortality and deformities were 9–30 times greater than expected. The role of the form of selenium responsible for teratogenesis in laboratory studies is discussed.


Selenium Gastroschisis National Wildlife Refuge Aquatic Bird Abnormal Embryo 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • David J. Hoffman
    • 1
  • Harry M. Ohlendorf
    • 2
  • Thomas W. Aldrich
    • 3
  1. 1.U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServicePatuxent Wildlife Research CenterLaurel
  2. 2.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Pacific Coast Field StationUniversity of CaliforniaDavis
  3. 3.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Ecological ServicesSacramento

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