, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 29–44 | Cite as

Trace elements in pacific Dunlin (Calidris alpina pacifica): patterns of accumulation and concentrations in kidneys and feathers

  • C. Toby St. ClairEmail author
  • Patricia Baird
  • Ron Ydenberg
  • Robert Elner
  • L. I. Bendell


Trace element concentrations were measured in Pacific Dunlin (Calidris alpina pacifica) to identify factors that influence accumulation and to assess toxicity risks. We report concentrations of cadmium, copper, and zinc in kidneys as well as copper, lead, mercury, selenium and zinc in feathers. Relationships between element concentrations and Dunlin age, sex, bill length, habitat preference, trophic level, and sample group were investigated with regression analyses. Stable isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen in Dunlin muscle tissue were used to determine habitat preference and trophic level, respectively. Cadmium concentrations in kidneys were significantly related to habitat preference: [Cd] in estuarine foragers >[Cd] in terrestrial foragers. Cadmium accumulation was age-dependent as concentrations increased significantly within 10 months of hatch dates but not afterward. Concentrations of cadmium and zinc in kidneys as well as lead and mercury in feathers were below those known to cause deleterious effects in birds. In contrast, selenium concentrations in feathers (range: 2.1–14.0 µg/g) were often at levels associated with toxicity risks (>5 µg/g). Toxicity thresholds are not available for copper in kidneys or copper and zinc in feathers; however, measured concentrations of these elements were within documented ranges for sandpipers. Future studies should assess potential impacts of selenium on embryonic development in Dunlin and other sandpipers. Risk assessments would yield more conclusive results for all elements if impacts under ecologically relevant stresses (e.g. development in the wild, migration, predation) were better understood.


Cadmium Dunlin Habitat preference Risk assessment Selenium Trace elements 



Funding for this research was provided by SFU, a NSERC Discovery grant to L. Bendell, and Environment Canada via the Centre for Wildlife Ecology at SFU. O. Busby, G. Slater, and D. Ball assisted in sample acquisition. L. Evans Ogden and D. Lank provided a foundation of logistical and ecological knowledge. Assistance with permitting, field and lab work, data analysis, and figure production was provided by K. Chan, H. Walling, C. Smith, J. Barrett, P. van Veelen, W. Stein, U. Somjee, C. Palomera, K. Pillay, L. Du Gas, K. Gorman, K. Wegner, G. Leung, and A. Bykov. Comments from two anonymous reviewers also helped to improve the manuscript. We acknowledge the support of IIRMES at Cal. State Long Beach and SIF at UC Davis. Finally, we recognize the sacrifice of the animals examined in this research so that we could learn to better address their needs and stresses in the future.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. Toby St. Clair
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Patricia Baird
    • 1
  • Ron Ydenberg
    • 1
  • Robert Elner
    • 3
  • L. I. Bendell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada
  2. 2.Hemmera Envirochem IncBurnabyCanada
  3. 3.Canadian Wildlife Service, Pacific Wildlife Research CentreEnvironment CanadaDeltaCanada

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