Influence of species-specific feeding ecology on mercury concentrations in seabirds breeding on the Chatham Islands, New Zealand

Justine Thébault, Paco Bustamante, Melanie Massaro, Graeme Taylor, Petra Quillfeldt

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Abstract

Mercury (Hg) is a toxic metal that accumulates in organisms and biomagnifies along food webs; hence, long-lived predators such as seabirds are at risk as a result of high Hg bioaccumulation. Seabirds have been widely used to monitor the contamination of marine ecosystems. In the present study, we investigated Hg concentrations in blood, muscle, and feathers of 7 procellariform seabirds breeding on the Chatham Islands, New Zealand. Using bulk and compound-specific stable isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen as a proxy of trophic position and distribution, we also tested whether Hg contamination is related to the species-specific feeding ecology. Mercury exposure varied widely within the seabird community. The highest contaminated species, the Magenta petrel, had approximately 29 times more Hg in its blood than the broad-billed prion, and approximately 35 times more Hg in its feathers than the grey-backed storm petrel. Variations of Hg concentrations in blood and feathers were significantly and positively linked to feeding habitats and trophic position, highlighting the occurrence of efficient Hg biomagnification processes along the food web. Species and feeding habitats were the 2 main drivers of Hg exposure within the seabird community. The Pterodroma species had high blood and feather Hg concentrations, which can be caused by their specific physiology and/or because of their foraging behavior during the interbreeding period (i.e., from the Tasman Sea to the Humboldt Current system). These 2 threatened species are at risk of suffering detrimental effects from Hg contamination and further studies are required to investigate potential negative impacts, especially on their reproduction capability. Environ Toxicol Chem 2021;40:454–472.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)454-472
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Volume40
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

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