Mercury and Other Mining-Related Contaminants in Ospreys Along the Upper Clark Fork River, Montana, USA

  • Heiko W. Langner
  • Erick Greene
  • Robert Domenech
  • Molly F. Staats


We investigated links between mining-related contaminants in river sediment and their occurrence in nestling ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) in the Clark Fork River Basin, Montana, USA. Blood and feather samples from 111 osprey chicks were collected during 4 years from nests along river sections with greatly different sediment concentrations of arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), copper (Cu), lead (Pb), zinc (Zn), and mercury (Hg). No significant differences between river sections were found among Zn (3,150 ± 160 μg L−1) and Cd (<5 μg L−1) concentrations in blood. Cu, Pb, and As concentrations in blood were significantly increased in chicks from the most contaminated river sections (mean values of 298, 8.9, and 100 μg L−1, respectively). Cu, Zn, and Pb concentrations increased significantly during a year of above-average river runoff combined with high suspended sediment loads in rivers. Total Hg concentrations in blood and feathers were highly correlated and depended on the geographic locations of the nests. The lowest blood concentrations of Hg were observed in the most upstream river section (mean 151 μg L−1) where total sediment concentrations were increased (0.80 mg kg−1). River sections with intermediate blood concentrations (mean 206 and 303 μg L−1) were associated with low to intermediate sediment concentrations (0.058 and 0.46 mg kg−1). The highest concentrations of Hg in ospreys (mean 548 μg L−1) were observed downstream from a contaminated tributary (1–4 mg kg−1 in sediment). In river sections with lower Hg concentrations in sediment, there was a negative correlation between blood Hg concentration and chick mass, presumably due to high deposition rates into growing feathers. This relationship was absent in sections of high Hg exposure. Osprey blood and feathers are suitable for monitoring Hg in aquatic ecosystems; however, responses of As, Cd, Cu, Pb, and Zn are more subtle.


United States Environmental Protection Agency River Section Feather Sample Tukey Honestly Significant Difference Nest Visit 
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We thank the Montana State Natural Resource Damage Program and the Environmental Biogeochemistry Laboratory at the University of Montana Geosciences Department for partial funding of this research. Special thanks go to Dave Taylor Roofing of Missoula, MT, Sam Milodragovich and Roy Brunner of Northwestern Energy Corporation, and Bart Peterson of Missoula Electric Cooperative for making their boom trucks available. We also thank personnel from Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, Atlantic Richfield Company, Tammy Talley, and Riverside Health Care Center, as well as the many private land owners who graciously gave us access to osprey nests. Kate Davis of Raptors of the Rockies, Karen Wagner, and an anonymous donor also helped facilitate this research in various ways. We thank three anonymous reviewers for their thorough and thoughtful comments, which greatly improved an earlier draft of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Heiko W. Langner
    • 1
  • Erick Greene
    • 2
  • Robert Domenech
    • 3
  • Molly F. Staats
    • 1
  1. 1.Geosciences DepartmentUniversity of MontanaMissoulaUSA
  2. 2.Division of Biological Sciences and The Wildlife Biology ProgramUniversity of MontanaMissoulaUSA
  3. 3.Raptor View Research InstituteMissoulaUSA

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