Reproductive and Physiological Effects of Environmental Contaminants in Fish-Eating Birds of the Great Lakes: A Review of Historical Trends
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During the 1950s and 1960s, reproductive failures and population declines were observed in fish-eating birds such as gulls, terns, cormorants, herons, and eagles in the Great Lakes. DDE-induced eggshell thinning contributed to these declines, but other factors such as embryo toxicity also were implicated. With reduced releases of many pollutants, reproduction recovered in some species. However, biomonitoring during the 1980s and 1990s indicates continuing effects at highly contaminated sites. Improved analytical techniques and bioassays have allowed the assessment of the total dioxin-like toxicity of complex mixtures of organochlorines (TCDD-equivalents). Developmental defects such as embryo mortality, deformities, and edema have been associated with dioxin-like PCBs in several avian species. Improved biochemical techniques have allowed the measurement of biomarkers that detect physiological alterations associated with contaminants. Specific biomarkers studied in Great Lakes birds include cytochrome P-450 monooxygenases, highly carboxylated porphyrins, thyroxine, vitamin A, and immune function. Reproductive and physiological alterations are associated with population-level effects in Caspian terns and bald eagles that feed on highly contaminated fish. Biomonitoring using biomarkers and population-level measures in fish-eating birds will continue to be important for assessing the effects of contaminants on the Great Lakes ecosystem.
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