A Nondestructive Method to Identify POP Contamination Sources in Omnivorous Seabirds

  • Rosanne J. Michielsen
  • Judy Shamoun-Baranes
  • John R. Parsons
  • Michiel H.S. Kraak
Part of the Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology book series (RECT, volume 246)


Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are present in almost all environments due to their high bioaccumulation potential. Especially species that adapted to human activities, like gulls, might be exposed to harmful concentrations of these chemicals. The nature and degree of the exposure to POPs greatly vary between individual gulls, due to their diverse foraging behavior and specialization in certain foraging tactics. Therefore, in order clarify the effect of POP-contaminated areas on gull populations, it is important to identify the sources of POP contamination in individual gulls. Conventional sampling methods applied when studying POP contamination are destructive and ethically undesired. The aim of this literature review was to evaluate the potential of using feathers as a nondestructive method to determine sources of POP contamination in individual gulls. The reviewed data showed that high concentrations of PCBs and PBDEs in feathers together with a large proportion of less bioaccumulative congeners may indicate that the contamination originates from landfills. Low PCB and PBDE concentrations in feathers and a large proportion of more bioaccumulative congeners could indicate that the contamination originates from marine prey. We propose a nondestructive approach to identify the source of contamination in individual gulls based on individual contamination levels and PCB and PBDE congener profiles in feathers. Despite some uncertainties that might be reduced by future research, we conclude that especially when integrated with other methods like GPS tracking and the analysis of stable isotopic signatures, identifying the source of POP contamination based on congener profiles in feathers could become a powerful nondestructive method.


Behavior Bioaccumulation Biomagnification Biomonitoring Birds Chemical analysis Congener Congener ratio Contamination source Deposition pathway Exposure Feathers Foraging area Foraging strategy GPS tracking Gulls Landfill Leachate Nondestructive method Organochlorine pesticide PBDE PCB Persistent organic pollutants POP signature Stable isotopes 







Decabromodiphenyl ether


Organochlorine pesticide


Polybrominated diphenyl ether

PCB 118


PCB 153


PCB 52



Polychlorinated biphenyl


Persistent organic pollutant



We would like to thank the anonymous reviewer for the useful comments that helped improve the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rosanne J. Michielsen
    • 1
  • Judy Shamoun-Baranes
    • 1
  • John R. Parsons
    • 1
  • Michiel H.S. Kraak
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem DynamicsUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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