, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 97–103 | Cite as

Relationships between blood mercury levels, reproduction, and return rate in a small seabird

  • Ingrid L. PolletEmail author
  • Marty L. Leonard
  • Nelson J. O’Driscoll
  • Neil M. Burgess
  • Dave Shutler


Mercury (Hg) is a ubiquitous heavy metal that occurs naturally in the environment, but its levels have been supplemented for decades by a variety of human activities. Mercury can have serious deleterious effects on a variety of organisms, with top predators being particularly susceptible because methylmercury bioaccumulates and biomagnifies in food webs. Among birds, seabirds can have especially high levels of Hg contamination and Leach’s storm-petrels (Oceanodroma leucorhoa), in particular, have amongst the highest known levels. Several populations of Leach’s storm-petrels have declined recently in the Northwest Atlantic. The causes of these declines remain uncertain, but the toxic effects of Hg could be a potential factor in this decline. Here, we tested for relationships between adult blood total Hg (THg) concentration and several offspring development parameters, and adult return rate of Leach’s storm-petrels breeding on Bon Portage Island (43° 28′ N, 65° 44′ W), Nova Scotia, Canada, between 2011 and 2015 (blood samples n = 20, 36, 6, 15, and 13 for each year, respectively). Overall, THg levels were elevated (0.78 ± 0.43 μg/g wet wt.) compared to other species of seabirds in this region, and varied significantly among years. However, we found no associations between THg levels and reproductive parameters or adult return rate. Our results indicate that levels of mercury observed in Leach’s storm-petrel blood, although elevated, appear not to adversely affect their offspring development or adult return rate on Bon Portage Island.


Leach’s storm-petrel Mercury Oceanodroma leucorhoa Reproduction 



We thank Erika Holland, Danielle Fife, and Madeline Sutton for their assistance in the field, and station manager Lee Adams for logistical support getting to and while on Bon Portage Island. Funding was provided through a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Post-Graduate Scholarship #407600–2011 to I. L. Pollet, Environment Canada, and Nova Scotia Habitat Conservation Fund # NSHCF 16–15 (via monies from hunters and trappers) to D. Shutler and I. Pollet, and through the Canada Research Chairs program and an NSERC Discovery Grant # 341960–2013 to N. J. O’Driscoll. We also thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and editorial suggestions.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.


  1. Ackerman JT, Eagles-Smith CA, Herzog MP, Hartman CA (2016) Maternal transfer of contaminants in birds: mercury and selenium concentrations in parents and their eggs. Environ Pollut 210:145–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Asmund G, Nielsen SP (2002) Mercury in dated greenland marine sediments. Sci Total Environ 245:61–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Atwell L, Hobson KA, Welch HE (1998) Biomagnification and bioaccumulation of mercury in an arctic marine food web: insights from stable nitrogen isotope analysis. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 55:1114–1121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Becker PH, González-Solís J, Behrends B, Croxall J (2002) Feather mercury levels in seabirds at south Georgia: influence of trophic position, sex and age. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 243:261–269CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bicknell TWJ, Reid JB, Votier SC (2009) Probable predation of Leach’s storm-petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa eggs by St Kilda field mice Apodemus sylvaticus hirtensis. Bird Study 56:419–422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blackmer AL, Ackerman JT, Nevitt GA (2003) Effects of investigator disturbance on hatching success and nest-site fidelity in a long-lived seabird, Leach’s storm-petrel. Biol Conserv 116:141–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bloom N, Fitzgerald WF (1988) Determination of volatile mercury species at the pictogram level by low-temperature gas chromatography with cold-vapour atomic fluorescence detection. Analytica Chimica Acta 208:151–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bond A, Diamond AW (2009) Mercury concentrations in seabird tissues from Machias Seal Island, New Brunswick, Canada. Sci Total Environ 407:4340–4347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bond AL, Hobson KA, Branfireun BA (2015) Rapidly increasing methyl mercury in endangered ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea) feathers over a 130 year record. Proc R Soc B 282:20150032CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Braune BM (2007) Temporal trends of organochlorines and mercury in seabird eggs from the Canadian Arctic, 1975–2003. Environ Pollut 148:599–613CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Braune BM, Gaskin DE (1987) Mercury levels in bonaparte’s gulls (Larus philadelphia) during autumn molt in the Quoddy region, New Brunswick, Canada. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 16:539–549CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Burger J, Gochfeld M (2004) Metal levels in eggs of common terns (Sterna hirundo) in New Jersey: temporal trends from 1971 to 2002. Environ Res 94:336–343CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Burgess NM, Meyer MW (2008) Methylmercury exposure associated with reduced productivity in common loons. Ecotoxicology 17:83–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Burgess NM, Bond AL, Hebert CE, Neugebauer E, Champoux L (2013) Mercury trends in herring gull (Larus argentatus) eggs from Atlantic Canada 1972-2008: temporal change or dietary shift? Environ Pollut 172:216–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Campbell LM, Norstrom RJ, Hobson KA, Muir DCG, Backus S, Fisk AT (2005) Mercury and other trace elements in a pelagic arctic marine food web (northwater Polynya, Baffin Bay). Sci Total Environ 351–352:247–263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cossa D, Heimbürger L-E, Lannuzel D, Rintoul SR, Butler ECV, Bowie AR, Averty B, Watson RJ, Remenyi T (2011) Mercury in the southern ocean. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 75:4037–4052CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Croxall JP, Rothery P, Crisp A (1992) The effect of maternal age and experience on egg-size and hatching success in wandering albatross diomeda exulans. Ibis 134:219–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dietz R, Sonne C, Basu N, Braune B, O’Hara T, Letcher RJ, Scheuhammer T, Andersen M, Andreasen C, Andriashek D, Asmund G, Aubail A, Baagøe H, Born EW, Chan HM, Derocher AE, Grandjean P, Knott K, Kirkegaard M, Krey A, Lunn N, Messier F, Obbard M, Olsen MT, Ostertag S, Peacock E, Renzoni A, Rigét FF, Skaare JU, Stern G, Stirling I, Taylor M, Wiig Ø, Wilson S, Aars J (2013) What are the toxicological effects of mercury in arctic biota? Sci Total Environ 443:775–790CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Edmonds ST, Evers DC, Cristol D, Mettke-Hofmann C, Powell LL, McGann AJ, Armiger JW, Lane OP, Tessler DF, Newell P, Heyden K, O’Driscoll NJ (2010) Geographic and seasonal variation in mercury exposure of the declining rusty blackbird. Condor 112:789–799CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Edmonds ST, O’Driscoll NJ, Hiller NK, Atwood JL, Evers DC (2012) Factors regulating the bioavailability of methylmercury to breeding rusty blackbirds in northeastern wetlands. Environ Pollut 171:148–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Evers DC, Savoy LJ, DeSorbo CR, Yates DE, Hanson W, Taylor KM, Siegel LS, Cooley Jr JH, Bank MS, Major A, Munney K, Mower BF, Vogel HS, Schoch N, Pokras M, Goodale MW, Fair J (2008) Adverse effects from environmental mercury loads on breeding common loons. Ecotoxicology 17:69–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fife DT, Pollet IL, Robertson GJ, Mallory ML, Shutler D (2015) Apparent survival of adult leach’s storm-petrels (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) breeding on Bon Portage Island, Nova Scotia. Avian Cons Ecol 10(2):1CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fitzgerald WF, Lamborg CH, Hammerschmidt CR (2007) Marine biogeochemical cycling of mercury. Chem Rev 107:641–662CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Furness RW, Camphuysen KCJ (1997) Seabirds as monitors of the marine environment. ICES J Mar Sci 54:726–737CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Goodale MW, Evers DC, Mierzykowski SE, Bond AL, Burgess NM, Otorowski CI, Welch LJ, Hall S, Ellis JC, Allen RB, Diamond AW, Kress SW, Taylor RJ (2008) Maine foraging birds as bioindicators of mercury in the Gulf of Maine. EcoHealth 5:409–425CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Goutte A, Barbraud C, Meillère A, Carravieri A, Bustamante P, Labadie P, Budzinski H, Delord K, Cherel Y, Weimerskirch H, Chastel O (2014a) Demographic consequences of heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants in a vulnerable long-lived bird, the wandering albatross. Proc R Soc B 20133313Google Scholar
  27. Goutte A, Bustamante P, Barbraud C, Delord K, Weimerskirch H, Chastel O (2014b) Demographic responses to mercury exposure in two closely related antarctic top predators. Ecology 95:1075–1086CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hawley DM, Hallinger KH, Cristol DA (2009) Compromised immune competence in free-living tree swallows exposed to mercury. Ecotoxicology 18:499–503CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hedd A, Pollet IP, Mauck RA, Burgess NM, Montevecchi WA, Shutler D, Robertson GJ. (2015) Foraging areas, offshore habitat use and colony segregation by incubating leach’s Storm-petrels in the northwest Atlantic. Manuscript submitted.Google Scholar
  30. Henny CJ, Hill EF, Hoffman DJ, Spalding MG, Grove RA (2002) Nineteenth century mercury: hazard to wading birds and cormorants of the Carson River, Nevada. Ecotox 11:213–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hoyt DF (1979) Practical methods of estimating volume and fresh weight of bird eggs. Auk 96:73–77Google Scholar
  32. Huntington CE, Butler RG, Mauck RA (1996) Leach’s storm-petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa). In: Poole A, Gill F (eds) The birds of North America. The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA, No. 233Google Scholar
  33. Kahle S, Becker PH (1999) Bird blood as bioindicator for mercury in the environment. Chemosphere 39:2451–2457CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kim EY, Murakami T, Saeki K, Tatsukawa R (1996) Mercury levels and its chemical form in tissues and organs of seabirds. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 30:259–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mason RP, Sheu G-R (2002) Role of the ocean in the global mercury cycle. Global Biochem Cycles 40:1–14Google Scholar
  36. Mitro MG, Evers DC, Meyer MW, Piper WH (2008) Common loon survival rates and mercury in New England and Wisconsin. J Wildlife Manage 72:665–673CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Monteiro LR, Furness RW (1995) Seabirds as monitors of mercury in the marine environment. Water Air Soil Poll 80:851–870CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Morse DH, Kress SW (1984) The effect of burrow loss on mate choice in the leach’s storm-petrel. Auk 101:158–160Google Scholar
  39. Newson SE, Mitchell PI, Parsons M, O’Brien SH, Austin GE, Benn S, Black J, Blackburn J, Brodie B, Humphreys E, Leech D, Prior M, Webster M (2008) Population decline of leach’s storm-petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa within the largest colony in Britain and Ireland. Seabird 21:77–84Google Scholar
  40. Oxley JR (1999) Nesting distribution and abundance of Leach’s Storm-petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) on Bon Portage Island, Nova Scotia. MSc Thesis, Acadia UniversityGoogle Scholar
  41. Pacyna EG, Pacyna JM, Steehuisen F, Wilson S (2006) Global anthropogenic mercury emission inventory for 2000. Atmos Environ 40:4048–4063CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pacyna EG, Pacyna JM, Sundseth K, Munthe J, Kindbom K, Wilson S, Steehuisen F, Maxson P (2010) Global emission of mercury to the atmosphere from anthropogenic sources in 2005 and projections to 2020. Atmos Environ 44:2487–2499CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pinkney AE, Driscoll CT, Evers DC, Hooper MJ, Horan J, Jones JW, Lazarus RS, Marshall HG, Milliken A, Rattner BA, Schmerfeld J, Sparling DW (2015) Interactive effects of climate change with nutrients, mercury, and freshwater acidification on key taxa in the north Atlantic landscape conservation cooperative region. Integr Environ Assess Manag 11:355–369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pollet IL, Ronconi RA, Jonsen ID, Leonard ML, Taylor PD, Shutler D (2014a) Foraging movements of Leach’s storm-petrels Oceanodroma leucorhoa during incubation. J Avian Biol 45:305–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pollet IL, Hedd A, Taylor PD, Montevecchi WA, Shutler D (2014b) Migratory movements and wintering areas of leach’s storm-petrels tracked using geolocators. J Field Ornithol 85:322–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. R Development Core Team (2012) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R foundation for statistical computing, Vienna, Austria ISBN 3-900051-07-0.
  47. Robertson GJ, Russell J, Bryant R, Fifield DA, Stenhouse I (2006) Size and trends of leach’s storm-petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa breeding populations in newfoundland. Atlantic Seabirds 8:41–50Google Scholar
  48. Sanz-Aguilar A, Martínez-Abraín A, Tavecchia G, Mínguez E, Oro D (2009) Evidence-based culling of a facultative predator: efficacy and efficiency components. Biol Conserv 142:424–431CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Spencer SH, Shutler D, O’Brien MS (2011) Correlates of mercury in female river otters (Lontra canadensis) from Nova Scotia, Canada. Environ Toxicol Chem 30:1879–1884CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Stenhouse IJ, Montevecchi WA (1999) Indirect effects of the availability of capelin and fishery discard: gull predation on breeding storm-petrels. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 184:303–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Streets DG, Zhang Q, Wu Y (2009) Projections of global mercury emissions in 2050. Environ Sci Technol 43:2983–2988CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sydeman WJ, Penniman JF, Penniman TM, Pyle P, Ainley DG (1991) Breeding performance in the western gull: effects of parental age, timing of breeding and year in relation to food availability. The Journal of Animal Ecology 60(1):135Google Scholar
  53. Tartu S, Angelier F, Wingfield JC, Bustamante P, Labadie P, Budzinski H, Weimerskirch H, Bustnes JO, Chastel O (2015) Corticosterone, prolactin and egg neglect behavior in relation to mercury and legacy pops in a long-lived Antarctic bird. Sci Total Environ 505:180–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Thomas CS (1983) The relationships between breeding experience, egg volume and reproductive success of the kittiwake Rissa tridactyla. Ibis 125:567–574Google Scholar
  55. Thompson DR (1990) Metal levels in marine vertebrates. In: Furness RW, Rainbow PS (eds) Heavy metals in the marine environment. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, p 143–182Google Scholar
  56. Thompson DR, Hamer KC, Furness RW (1991) Mercury accumulation in great skuas Catharacta skua of known age and sex, and its effects upon breeding and survival. J Appl Ecol 28:672–684CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Thompson DR, Furness RW, Walsh PM (1992) Historical changes in mercury concentrations in the marine ecosystem in the north and north-east Atlantic ocean as indicated by seabird feathers. J Appl Ecol 29:79–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Thompson DR, Furness RW, Lewis SA (1993) Temporal and spatial variation in mercury concentrations in some albatrosses and petrels from the sub-antarctic. Polar Biol 13:239–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) (2013) Global mercury assessment 2013: sources, emissions, releases, and environmental transport. UNEP chemicals branch, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  60. Wanless S, Harris MP (1988) The importance of relative laying date on breeding success of the guillemot Uria aalge. Ornis Scand 19:205–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wayland M, Gilchrist HG, Dickson DL, Bollinger T, James C, Carreno RA, Keating J (2001) Trace elements in king eiders and common eiders in the Canadian Arctic. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 41:491–500CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Wayland M, Drake KL, Alisauskas RT, Kellett DK, Traylor J, Swoboda C, Mehl K (2008) Survival rates and blood metal concentrations in two species of free-ranging north American sea ducks. Environ Toxicol Chem 27:698–704CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Weller MW (1956) A simple field candler for waterfowl eggs. J Wildlife Manage 20:111–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wiedinmyer C, Friedli H (2007) Mercury emission estimates from fires: an initial inventory for the United States. Environ Sci Technol 41:8092–8098CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Wiese FK, Montevecchi WA, Davoren GK, Huettmann F, Diamond AW, Linke J (2001) Seabirds at risk around offshore oil platforms in the north-west Atlantic. Mar Pollut Bull 42:1285–1290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Wolfe MF, Schwarzbach S, Sulaiman RA (1998) Effects of mercury on wildlife: a comprehensive review. Environ Toxicol Chem 17:146–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ingrid L. Pollet
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Marty L. Leonard
    • 2
  • Nelson J. O’Driscoll
    • 1
  • Neil M. Burgess
    • 3
  • Dave Shutler
    • 1
  1. 1.Acadia UniversityWolfvilleCanada
  2. 2.Department of BiologyDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada
  3. 3.Environment and Climate Change CanadaMount PearlCanada

Personalised recommendations