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Ecotoxicology. 2011 Oct;20(7):1636-43. doi: 10.1007/s10646-011-0738-6. Epub 2011 Jul 14.

Retrospective analysis of mercury content in feathers of birds collected from the state of Michigan (1895-2007).

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Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.


Museum specimens were used to analyze temporal trends in feather mercury (Hg) concentrations in birds collected from the state of Michigan between the years 1895 and 2007. Hg was measured in flank and secondary feathers from three species of birds that breed in the Great Lakes region; common terns (n = 32), great blue herons (n = 35), and herring gulls (n = 35). More than 90% of the Hg in feathers should be organic, but some of the heron and gull feathers collected prior to 1936 showed evidence of contamination with inorganic Hg, likely from museum preservatives. The data presented here therefore consist of organic Hg in pre-1936 samples and total Hg in post-1936 samples. Insufficient tissue was available from terns to assess organic Hg content. Mean Hg concentrations ranged from 2.9 ± 2.5 μg/g Hg in tern flank feathers to 12.4 ± 10.6 μg/g Hg in gull flank feathers. No linear trend of Hg contamination over time was detected in herons and gulls. Though a significant decrease was noted for terns, these data are presented with caution given the strong likelihood that earlier samples were preserved with inorganic mercury. When data were separated into 30-year intervals, Hg content in heron and gull feathers collected from birds sampled between 1920 and 1949 were consistently highest but not to a level of statistical significance. For example, Hg concentrations in gull secondary feathers collected in the second time interval (1920-1949) were 11.5 ± 7.8. This value was 67% higher than the first time interval (1890-1919), 44% higher than the third interval (1950-1979), and 187% higher than the fourth interval (1980-2009). Studies on Great Lakes sediments also showed greatest Hg accumulations in the mid-twentieth century. Through the use of museum specimens, these results present a unique snapshot of Hg concentrations in Great Lakes biota in the early part of the twentieth century.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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