Thyroid Hormones, Retinol and Clinical Parameters in Relation to Mercury and Organohalogen Contaminants in Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) Nestlings from the St. Lawrence River, Québec, Canada



The exposure and effects of persistent environmental contaminants were investigated in great blue heron (Ardea herodias) nestlings sampled in 2001, 2002, 2006, and 2007 in freshwater and estuarine heronries along the St. Lawrence River, Québec (Canada). Biomarkers (retinoids, thyroid hormones, and clinical parameters) and contaminants (organochlorine contaminants, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), brominated flame retardants (BFRs), and mercury (Hg)) were analyzed in blood, and Hg was analyzed in feathers (generally 9 nestlings per colony and 4 colonies per year). Feather Hg and most contaminants detected in blood were found in higher concentrations in birds from freshwater than estuarine colonies more distant from the pollution sources. Among freshwater colonies, Ile aux Hérons showed the highest levels of contaminants, with mean Hg concentrations of 8.4 and 0.55 mg/kg in feathers and plasma, respectively, and plasma ΣBFRs of 19.6 ng/g ww. The highest mean ΣPCBs, 56.5 ng/g ww, was measured at Grande Ile in 2001. The levels of contaminants in heron nestlings were generally below critical thresholds for adverse effects observed on reproduction or survival. Retinol, dehydroretinol (DROH), and thyroid hormone concentrations differed significantly among colonies. Retinol concentrations were negatively related to ΣPCBs, whereas DROH concentrations were negatively related to Hg and total and free triiodothyronine (T3) concentrations were negatively related to ΣBFRs. These results indicate that contaminants from the St. Lawrence River could impair the development and fitness of great blue heron nestlings and emphasize the need for more research on the great blue heron population to assess their health and nutritional status.


Thyroid Hormone PCBs Retinoid Retinol Reference Site 



The authors thank P. Labonté, S. Légaré, A. Michel, J.-M. Villeneuve, S. Auger, R. Angers, J.-P. Rioux, and D. Georges for fieldwork. They are grateful to M. Asrat, J. Corriveau, A. Miftah Idrissi, F. Maisonneuve, R. McNeil, M. Mulvihill, G. Savard, K. Timm, S. Trudeau, B. Wakeford, K. Williams, and H. Won of the National Wildlife Research Center and G. Séguin of the Centre québécois sur la santé des animaux sauvages for processing and analyzing the samples. They also thank the three anonymous reviewers for their useful comments on a previous version of the manuscript. This study was supported by the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Science and Technology Branch and the St. Lawrence Action Plan of Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wildlife and Landscape Science Directorate, Science and Technology BranchEnvironment and Climate Change CanadaQuébecCanada
  2. 2.Département des Sciences BiologiquesUniversité du Québec à MontréalMontréalCanada
  3. 3.Faculté de Médecine VétérinaireUniversité de MontréalSaint-HyacintheCanada

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