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Environ Toxicol Chem. 2012 Oct;31(10):2399-407. doi: 10.1002/etc.1971. Epub 2012 Aug 29.

Derivation of screening benchmarks for dietary methylmercury exposure for the common loon (Gavia immer): rationale for use in ecological risk assessment.

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Department of Biology and School of Environmental Studies, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.


The current understanding of methylmercury (MeHg) toxicity to avian species has improved considerably in recent years and indicates that exposure to environmentally relevant concentrations of MeHg through the diet can adversely affect various aspects of avian health, reproduction, and survival. Because fish-eating birds are at particular risk for elevated MeHg exposure, the authors surveyed the available primary and secondary literature to summarize the effects of dietary MeHg on the common loon (Gavia immer) and to derive ecologically relevant toxic thresholds for dietary exposure to MeHg in fish prey. After considering the available data, the authors propose three screening benchmarks of 0.1, 0.18, and 0.4 µg g(-1) wet weight MeHg in prey fish. The lowest benchmark (0.1 µg g(-1) wet wt) is the threshold for adverse behavioral impacts in adult loons and is close to the empirically determined no observed adverse effects level for subclinical effects observed in captive loon chicks. The remaining benchmarks (0.18 and 0.4 µg g(-1) wet wt) correspond to MeHg levels in prey fish associated with significant reproductive impairment and reproductive failure in wild adult loons. Overall, these benchmarks incorporate recent findings and reviews of MeHg toxicity in aquatic fish-eating birds and provide the basis for a national ecological risk assessment for Hg and loons in Canada.

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