Metal and Isotope Analysis of Bird Feathers in a Contaminated Estuary Reveals Bioaccumulation, Biomagnification, and Potential Toxic Effects

L. D. Einoder, C. K. MacLeod, C. Coughanowr

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    The Derwent estuary, in south east Tasmania, is highly contaminated with heavy metals, mainly due to past industrial pollution. This study sought to determine the extent of contamination, bioaccumulation, and biomagnification in the resident bird community and therefore to infer the potential for adverse effects in birds. Thirteen metals were measured from breast feathers (n = 51 individuals) of eight sympatric species of aquatic bird. Stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopes were used to identify dietary sources of contaminants, trophic level, and potential biomagnification through food chains. Generalised linear models revealed that metal burdens were often poorly correlated with δ 13C, indicating their uptake from a range of freshwater, brackish, and marine carbon sources—not surprising due to widespread contamination across the tidal estuary. Feather mercury increased significantly with trophic level (inferred from δ15N). White-bellied Sea-eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster samples contained 240 times more mercury than feral Goose Anser cygnoides. Feather arsenic and copper concentrations were significantly higher in birds feeding lower in the food chain. For several piscivorous species, both chick and adults were sampled revealing significantly higher feather mercury, zinc, and selenium in adults. Feathers from birds found dead along the banks of the estuary had significantly higher lead loads than from live birds, and numerous individuals had levels of mercury, zinc, and lead above toxic thresholds reported in other studies. These results highlight the need to include biota from higher trophic levels in contaminant monitoring programs to understand fully the fate and broader implications of contaminants in the environment.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)96-110
    Number of pages15
    JournalArchives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
    Volume75
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018

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