Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles

Accumulation of the Toxic Metal Mercury in Multiple Tissues of Marine-Associated Birds from South Florida





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Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology



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One of the best studied global “hot spots” for ecological mercury (Hg) contamination is south Florida (USA), where elevated Hg concentrations in environmental media and regional wildlife were first described over thirty years ago. While Hg contamination has lessened in this region, it is still critical to monitor Hg uptake and potential risks in south Florida wildlife, especially in marine-associated birds, which are known to accumulate potentially toxic Hg levels. In this study, total Hg (THg) concentrations were measured in liver, kidney, muscle, and feathers of 101 individuals from seven species of south Florida birds: brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis, double-crested cormorant Phalacrocorax auratus, herring gull Larus argentatus, laughing gull Leucophaeus atricilla, northern gannet Morus bassanus, royal tern Thalasseus maximus, and osprey Pandion halietus. A sizeable proportion of individuals (> 40%) were found to contain THg concentrations in internal tissues that exceeded estimated toxicity thresholds for Hg-related effects. Certain species, especially osprey, were found to exhibit a higher rate of threshold exceedances than others and should continue to be monitored for Hg-related effects in future studies. Feather THg concentrations exhibited a lower rate of toxicity threshold exceedances (12%) and were not significantly correlated with those in internal tissues in most cases, suggesting that they may not be well suited for monitoring Hg exposure in these species unless sources of data variation can be better understood. The results of the present study contribute significantly to our understanding of trends in Hg accumulation and Hg-related health risks in south Florida marine-associated birds.



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