Alpine accentors as monitors of atmospheric long-range lead and mercury pollution in alpine environments

  • Marián Janiga
  • Martina Haas
Research Article


Mercury and lead are deposited in the West Carpathians as long-range transported air pollution. The Alpine accentor (Prunella collaris) was recognized as a cost-effective biomonitor, and used to investigate the bioavailability of contaminants in large alpine areas. The outer tail feathers and blood of the alpine accentors were used for assessment of atmospheric mercury and lead contamination, respectively. Mean mercury levels in feathers of accentors averaged at 1.15 μg/g (SE = 0.105, n = 40). There were no temporal variations in mercury concentrations. Mean blood lead levels were at 5.2 μg/dL (SE = 0.5, n = 27), showing a slight decreasing trend from July to October. Juveniles were not more susceptible to lead accumulation than adults. Bone lead concentrations that increase with age reflect a bioaccumulation effect. A statistically significant negative correlation was found between the length of erythrocytes and the concentration of lead, which may show the first symptoms of microcytosis. In comparison to aquatic ecosystems, the biogeochemical factors that influence methylmercury availability in alpine habitats are not yet completely known and require further investigation. Our findings show that birds in alpine terrestrial ecosystems may contain surprisingly high levels of methylmercury. The mercury levels in the feathers of accentors probably indicate that alpine autotrophs make sufficient amounts of mercury available to the terrestrial food web. The blood lead levels of accentors likely approach the threshold level for further hematological effects. We found a clear tendency in erythrocytes to change their shape from ellipsoid to smaller and rounder with increasing amounts of lead in their blood. The shape of bird erythrocytes appears to be a very sensitive indicator of critical levels of lead in the alpine environment.


Lead Mercury Prunella collaris West Carpathians Erythrocytes Microcytosis Transport 



We are grateful to Dr. Mária Žembéryová for sample analysis.

Author contributions

MJ initialized study, collected samples in the field, interpreted the data, and wrote the manuscript. MH collected samples in the field, made laboratory examination of blood smears, and helped with the preparation of the manuscript. Authors have reviewed and approved the manuscript.

Funding information

This study has been supported by the European Structural Funds (ITMS No. 26210120006).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of High Mountain BiologyŽilina UniversityTatranská JavorinaSlovak Republic

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