Hepatic Concentrations of Inorganic Contaminants and Their Relationships with Nutrient Reserves in Autumn-Migrant Common Loons at Lake Erie

  • Michael L. Schummer
  • Scott A. Petrie
  • Shannon S. Badzinski
  • Yu-Wei Chen
  • Nelson Belzile


Common loons (Gavia immer) are piscivorous, high–trophic level feeders that bioaccumulate inorganic contaminants at concentrations that can negatively impact their health and reproduction. Concentrations of inorganic contaminants, especially mercury (Hg), in blood, organs, and muscle have been quantified in common loons on breeding grounds, but these data are limited for migrating loons. We investigated sex- and age-related hepatic concentrations of inorganic contaminants in common loons (n = 53) that died from botulism and were salvaged at a Great Lakes staging area (i.e., Long Point, Lake Erie) during November 2005. We also investigated if hepatic concentrations of inorganic contaminants influenced lipid, protein, and mineral in our sample of migrant common loons. Last, we determined if there was correlation between Hg and selenium (Se). Consistent with data from breeding grounds, mean concentrations of Hg in liver were approximately 2.5 times greater in adult (\( \bar{x} \) = 14.64 ± 16.69 μg g−1) compared with juvenile birds (\( \bar{x} \) = 3.99 ± 2.27 μg g−1). Elements detected in liver at potentially harmful levels were Hg and Se, of which lipid reserves varied negatively with Hg concentrations but positively with Se concentrations. In addition, Hg and Se were correlated (r = 0.65) at greater then a demethylation threshold (total Hg ≥ 8.5 μg g−1 dw) but not lower than that. Concentrations of inorganic contaminants did not influence protein and mineral levels in our sample of common loons. Our results suggest that Hg accumulation negatively affects lipid levels in migrant common loons. Results are also consistent with a nontoxic Hg–Se protein complex protecting loons migrating through areas that are relatively Se rich. Although the acquisition of Se during the nonbreeding season may decrease the toxicity of Hg, future research should consider the synergistic Hg–Se effect on reproduction in common loons that migrate through Se-rich locales, such as the Great Lakes.



Financial support was provided by Long Point Waterfowl, The Bluff’s Hunting Club, The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Metals in the Human Environment Strategic Network. Bird Studies Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service provided logistical support. We thank Canadian Wildlife Service employees P. Ashley, D. Bernard, G. McCullough for logistical and field assistance. B. Bailey, S. Fleming, and B. Scott provided helpful comments on the manuscript. We also thank C. Course for development of a pilot honor’s thesis entitled, “Contaminant Burdens, Nutrient Reserve Dynamics, and Artifact Ingestion in Fall-Migrating Common Loons, Gavia immer.”


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael L. Schummer
    • 1
  • Scott A. Petrie
    • 1
  • Shannon S. Badzinski
    • 1
    • 3
  • Yu-Wei Chen
    • 2
  • Nelson Belzile
    • 2
  1. 1.Long Point WaterfowlPort RowanCanada
  2. 2.Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryLaurentian UniversitySudburyCanada
  3. 3.Canadian Wildlife ServiceEnvironment CanadaOttawaCanada

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