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Ecotoxicology. 2014 Mar;23(2):304-16. doi: 10.1007/s10646-013-1174-6. Epub 2014 Jan 14.

Mercury bioaccumulation in Southern Appalachian birds, assessed through feather concentrations.

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Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture, American Bird Conservancy, 1900 Kraft Drive, Suite 250, Blacksburg, VA, 24061, USA,


Mercury contamination in wildlife has rarely been studied in the Southern Appalachians despite high deposition rates in the region. From 2006 to 2008 we sampled feathers from 458 birds representing 32 species in the Southern Appalachians for total mercury and stable isotope δ (15)N. Mercury concentrations (mean ± SE) averaged 0.46 ± 0.02 μg g(-1) (range 0.01-3.74 μg g(-1)). Twelve of 32 species had individuals (7 % of all birds sampled) with mercury concentrations higher than 1 μg g(-1). Mercury concentrations were 17 % higher in juveniles compared to adults (n = 454). In adults, invertivores has higher mercury levels compared to omnivores. Mercury was highest at low-elevation sites near water, however mercury was detected in all birds, including those in the high elevations (1,000-2,000 m). Relative trophic position, calculated from δ (15)N, ranged from 2.13 to 4.87 across all birds. We fitted linear mixed-effects models to the data separately for juveniles and year-round resident adults. In adults, mercury concentrations were 2.4 times higher in invertivores compared to omnivores. Trophic position was the main effect explaining mercury levels in juveniles, with an estimated 0.18 ± 0.08 μg g(-1) increase in feather mercury for each one unit rise in trophic position. Our research demonstrates that mercury is biomagnifying in birds within this terrestrial mountainous system, and further research is warranted for animals foraging at higher trophic levels, particularly those associated with aquatic environments downslope from montane areas receiving high mercury deposition.

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