, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 263–274 | Cite as

Marine Birds as Sentinels of Environmental Pollution

  • Joanna BurgerEmail author
  • Michael Gochfeld
Special Section: Marine Sentinel Species


Marine birds are useful as bioindicators of environmental pollution in estuarine and marine environments because they are often at the top of the food chain, ubiquitous, and many are abundant and common, making collecting possible. Seabirds have the advantage of being large, wide-ranging, conspicuous, abundant, long-lived, easily observed, and important to people. Many species are at the top of the food chain where they bioaccumulate contaminants with age. One disadvantage is that many species are migratory, making it difficult to determine where exposure occurred. This can be eliminated by using sedentary species or young birds that obtain all their food from parents. Further, noninvasive collection of feathers can be used to assess heavy metal levels, both from current collections and from historical collections in museums dating back centuries. Marine birds can be used as bioindicators in many ways, including tissue levels of contaminants, epidemiological field studies of effects, and experimental and laboratory studies of dose and effects. Examples from our research indicate some of the ways marine birds can be useful as indicators and sentinels of contamination, particularly by using young birds and feathers.


pollution indicators sentinel species ecosystem health heavy metals feathers seabirds mercury cadmium lead 



We acknowledge valuable discussions with many colleagues over the years, including K. Cooper, D. Cory-Slechta, B.D. Goldstein, G. Fox, R. Furness, M. Gilbertson, H. Hayes, J. Jehl Jr., K. King, B.G. Murray, I. Nisbet, C. Powers, C. Safina, J. Saliva, B.A. Schreiber, and J. Spendelow. We thank C. Dixon, C. Jeitner, T. Shukla, S. Shukla, and M. McMahon for laboratory assistance, and R. Ramos for graphics. Research has been funded by NIMH, NIEHS (ESO 5022), EPA, the Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation (CRESP) through the Department of Energy cooperative agreement (AI# DE-FC01-95EW55084, DE-FG 26-OONT 40938), the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (Endangered and Nongame Species Program, Office of Science and Research), Penn Foundation, and the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute.


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Copyright information

© EcoHealth Journal Consortium 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Life SciencesRutgers UniversityPiscataway
  2. 2.Environmental and Community MedicineUniversity of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey–Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Piscataway

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