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J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2009 Jan;12(1):25-44. doi: 10.1080/10937400802545078.

Osprey: worldwide sentinel species for assessing and monitoring environmental contamination in rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and estuaries.

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US Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA.


In the United States, many fish and wildlife species have been used nationwide to monitor environmental contaminant exposure and effects, including carcasses of the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), the only top avian predator regularly used in the past. Unfortunately, bald eagles are sensitive to investigator intrusion at the nest. Thus, the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is evaluated as a potential sentinel species for aquatic ecosystems. Several characteristics support the choice of the osprey as a sentinel species, including: (1) fish-eating diet atop the aquatic food web, (2) long-lived with strong nest fidelity, (3) adapts to human landscapes (potentially the most contaminated), (4) tolerates short-term nest disturbance, (5) nests spatially distributed at regular intervals, (6) highly visible nests easily located for study, (7) ability to accumulate most, if not all, lipophilic contaminants, (8) known sensitivity to many contaminants, and (9) nearly a worldwide distribution. These osprey traits have been instrumental in successfully using the species to understand population distribution, abundance, and changes over time; the effects of various contaminants on reproductive success; how contaminants in prey (fish on biomass basis) contribute to egg concentrations (i.e., biomagnification factors); and spatial residue patterns. Data summarized include nesting population surveys, detailed nesting studies, and chemical analyses of osprey egg, organ, blood, and feather samples for contaminants that bioaccumulate and/or biomagnify in aquatic food webs; and biochemical evaluations of blood and various organs. Studies in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, and elsewhere have shown the osprey to be a useful sentinel species for monitoring selected environmental contaminants, including some emerging contaminants in lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and estuaries.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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