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Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2014 Jan;66(1):139-53. doi: 10.1007/s00244-013-9939-8. Epub 2013 Aug 1.

Heavy-metal levels in feathers of cattle egret and their surrounding environment: a case of the Punjab Province, Pakistan.

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Environmental Biology and Ecotoxicology Laboratory, Department of Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Biological Sciences, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, 45320, Pakistan.


Levels of 10 heavy metals in cattle egret chick feathers, prey, and surrounding soils from three heronries in Punjab Province, Pakistan, were assessed by atomic absorption spectrophotometry. Mean levels of cadmium (Cd), iron (Fe), chromium (Cr), and lithium (Li) in feathers, manganese (Mn), cobalt (Co), and nickel (Ni) in prey, and lead (Pb), iron (Fe), chromium (Cr), zinc (Zn), cobalt (Co), and lithium (Li) in soils were significantly different among Trimun Headworks, Shorkot, and Mailsi heroneries. Mean levels of Pb (43.10 μg/g), Cr (35.77 μg/g), Co (18.34 μg/g), Cu (0.20 μg/g), and Ni (0.22 μg/g) in feathers were significantly greater at Mailsi, and Mn (3.07 μg/g), Zn (18.83 μg/g), and Li (1.5 μg/g) levels were significantly greater at Shorkot. Multivariate analysis identified that some metals, such as Fe, Zn, and Li, in feathers were either associated with natural sources or with human-related activities, whereas Ni, Cr, Pb, Cd, Cu, Co, and Mn were correlated mainly with anthropogenic processes. Alarming levels were recorded for Cr, Pb, and Cd in feathers that were above threshold levels that may affect cattle egret flighting capacity and reproduction, thus leading to their population decline in Punjab Province. The results of this study provide evidence for the potential of feathers of cattle egret to be used as a biomonitor for the local heavy-metal contamination.

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