Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 186, Issue 3, pp 1815–1824 | Cite as

Assessment of trace metals and porphyrins in excreta of Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) in different locations of the northern coast of Chile

  • José E. Celis
  • Winfred Espejo
  • Daniel González-Acuña
  • Solange Jara
  • Ricardo Barra


To add data on trace metal contamination of Humboldt penguins in the South Pacific, levels of trace metals (As, Hg, Pb, Cu, Zn, and Cd) and porphyrins (copro-, uro-, and proto-) in excreta of Humboldt penguins that inhabit some important nesting sites on the northern coast of Chile were determined. Fresh excreta were collected on Pan de Azúcar Island, Chañaral Island, and Cachagua Island, from December 2011 to January 2012. Concentration of metals was determined by flame atomic absorption spectrophotometry, whereas porphyrins levels were measured by fluorimetric analysis. Concentrations (dry weight) of Cu (199.67 μg g−1), As (7.85 μg g−1), and Pb (12.78 μg g−1) were higher (p ≤ 0.05) in Cachagua Island. Colonies from Pan de Azúcar Island showed the highest levels of Hg (0.76 μg g−1), Cd (47.70 μg g−1), and Zn (487.10 μg g−1). Samples from Cachagua Island showed the highest (p ≤ 0.05) levels of copro- (2.16 nmol g−1), uro- (2.20 nmol g−1), and protoporphyrins (2.23 nmol g−1). There was a positive correlation between the metals As, Pb, and Cu with uro-, copro-, and protoporphyrins. The results indicated that penguin colonies from Cachagua Island are more exposed to metal contamination than penguin colonies from Pan de Azúcar and Chañaral Islands, thus being more likely to develop certain diseases caused by contamination with metals. Considering biomagnification, the metals detected in the excreta of Humboldt penguins can be a source of contamination from marine environments to terrestrial ecosystems, which could also affect other living organisms.


Heavy metals Seabirds Penguins Excrement Biomonitoring Sea pollution 



The authors thank the personnel of the Laboratorio de Química (Universidad de Concepción, EULA-Chile) for their analytical support and Dr. Mario Briones for all the statistical analyses. The authors also thank Carla Louit, Javiera Meza, and Pablo Arrospide, all members of the Corporación Nacional Forestal, Chile, for providing logistical support. Sebastián Muñoz-Leal, Marcelo Flores, and Iván Torres are also acknowledged for fieldwork assistance. Permissions to work in the study area were given by the Servicio Nacional de Pesca and Corporación Nacional Forestal. This study was financially supported by project INACH T 18-09 granted to R. Barra and by project 211.154.023-1.0 of the Dirección de Investigación de la Universidad de Concepción. In addition, the authors also thank Diane Haughney for the English revision. Finally, the authors thank the referees for helpful suggestions on an early version of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • José E. Celis
    • 1
  • Winfred Espejo
    • 1
  • Daniel González-Acuña
    • 1
  • Solange Jara
    • 2
  • Ricardo Barra
    • 2
  1. 1.Facultad de Ciencias VeterinariasUniversidad de ConcepciónChillánChile
  2. 2.Unidad de Sistemas Acuáticos, Centro de Ciencias Ambientales EULA-ChileUniversidad de ConcepciónConcepciónChile

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