, 20:1984 | Cite as

Mercury in breeding saltmarsh sparrows (Ammodramus caudacutus caudacutus)

  • Oksana P. LaneEmail author
  • Kathleen M. O’Brien
  • David C. Evers
  • Thomas P. Hodgman
  • Andrew Major
  • Nancy Pau
  • Mark J. Ducey
  • Robert Taylor
  • Deborah Perry


Environmental mercury exposure of birds through atmospheric deposition and watershed point-source contamination is an issue of increasing concern globally. The saltmarsh sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus) is of high conservation concern throughout its range and the potential threat of mercury exposure adds to other anthropogenic stressors, including sea level rise. To assess methylmercury exposure we sampled blood of the northern nominal subspecies of saltmarsh sparrows (A. c. caudacutus) nesting in 21 tidal marshes throughout most of the species’ breeding range. Blood of tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) was sampled concurrently at three of these sites to provide a comparison with a well-studied songbird that is a model species in ecotoxicology. Arithmetic means (±1 SD) ranged from 0.24 ± 0.06 μg g−1 wet weight (ww) in Connecticut to 1.80 ± 0.14 μg g−1 ww in Massachusetts, differing significantly among sites. Comparison to tree swallows indicates that mercury exposure is significantly higher in saltmarsh sparrows, making them a more appropriate bioindicator for assessing risk to methylmercury toxicity in tidal marsh ecosystems.


Saltmarsh sparrow Tree swallow Methylmercury New England Long Island 



Funding for this project was provided by US Fish and Wildlife Service, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Maine Department of Environmental Protection. We are grateful to the staff of Rachel Carson and Parker River NWRs for their logistical support and help in the field. We thank Greg Shriver for his expert technical advice. Thanks to Steve Mierzykowski for help in the field and with the project. We thank the following individuals for their help and support: Sam Edmonds from Biodiversity Research Institute, Jen Walsh at the University of New Hampshire for field assistance; Sara Williams at Stewart B. McKinney NWR and Suzanne Paton at Ninigret NWR; the staff of Wertheim NWR, Mike Farina and the staff of the Marine Nature Study Area in Hempstead, Long Island and numerous interns from all the refuges for their enthusiastic assistance in the field, Carina Gjerdrum and Chris Elphick from University of CT for providing sparrow blood from Hammock River site in CT; and all the volunteers who came out to help catch birds, especially Frank Dehler for his many hours of assistance and valuable help.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Oksana P. Lane
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kathleen M. O’Brien
    • 2
  • David C. Evers
    • 1
  • Thomas P. Hodgman
    • 3
  • Andrew Major
    • 4
  • Nancy Pau
    • 5
  • Mark J. Ducey
    • 6
  • Robert Taylor
    • 7
  • Deborah Perry
    • 7
  1. 1.BioDiversity Research InstituteGorhamUSA
  2. 2.US Fish and Wildlife Service, Rachel Carson NWRWellsUSA
  3. 3.Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and WildlifeBangorUSA
  4. 4.US Fish and Wildlife ServiceConcordUSA
  5. 5.US Fish and Wildlife Service, Parker River NWRNewburyportUSA
  6. 6.Department of Natural Resources and the EnvironmentUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  7. 7.Department of Veterinary Anatomy and Public HealthTrace Element Research LabCollege StationUSA

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