Effects of mercury, selenium, and organochlorine contaminants on reproduction of Forster's terns and black skimmers nesting in a contaminated Texas Bay

  • Kirke A. King
  • Thomas W. Custer
  • James S. Quinn


Mean mercury (0.40 μg/g), and geometric mean DDE (1.6 μg/g) and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) (2.3 μg/g) concentrations in Forster's tern (Sterna forsteri) eggs from Lavaca Bay were higher than those in tern eggs from a reference area in San Antonio Bay, but residues were not correlated with hatching success. Nest success was similar between bays. Selenium levels in Lavaca Bay tern eggs (0.71 μg/g) were also comparable to those in eggs from the reference area (0.68 μg/g).

Clutch size (3.1 to 3.4) of Lavaca Bay black skimmers (Rynchops niger) was no different than that (3.4) at a reference colony near Laguna Vista. Nest success was similar among three Lavaca Bay colonies, but success was lower at one Lavaca Bay colony (40%) than at Laguna Vista (65%). Mean mercury (0.46 μg/g) and selenium (0.75 μg/g) concentrations in skimmer eggs from Lavaca Bay were higher than those (0.19, 0.33 μg/g) from Laguna Vista; however, concentrations of neither contaminant were related to hatching success. DDE concentrations in Lavaca Bay skimmer eggs (3.4 μg/g) were similar to those from Laguna Vista (3.2 μg/g) and DDE was negatively correlated with hatching success. PCBs were higher in eggs from Lavaca Bay (1.3 μg/g) than Laguna Vista (0.8 μg/g). Organochlorine and metal contaminants in most eggs were below embryotoxic levels. Eggshell thinning in Forster's terns (7%) and black skimmers (5%) was below that associated with lowered reproduction.

DDE and PCBs were detected in 9 Caspian tern (S. caspia) eggs; maximum concentrations were 4.7 and 5.4 μg/g. Caspian tern and least tern (S. albifrons) eggs contained low (⩽0.9 μg/g) concentrations of mercury and selenium.


Mercury Selenium PCBs Biphenyl Clutch Size 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kirke A. King
    • 1
  • Thomas W. Custer
    • 1
  • James S. Quinn
    • 2
  1. 1.U.S. Fish & Wildlife ServicePatuxent Wildlife Research CenterLaurelUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyQueen's UniversityKingstonCanada

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