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Preventing environmental contaminants from reducing wildlife populations is the greatest concern in wildlife toxicology. In the Great Lakes, environmental contaminants have a history of reducing populations of many species of fish-eating birds. Endocrine effects may have contributed to declines in fish-eating bird populations, but the overriding harm was caused by DDE-induced eggshell thinning. Toxic effects may still be occurring today, but apparently they are not of a sufficient magnitude to depress populations of most fish-eating birds. Once DDE levels in the Great Lakes declined, eggshells of birds began to get thicker and reproductive success improved. Populations of double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) and ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) have increased dramatically since the bans on DDT and other organochlorine pesticides. Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are still not reproducing at a normal rate along the shores of the Great Lakes, but success is much improved compared to earlier records when eggshell thinning was worse. Other species, such as herring gulls (Larus argentatus) and black-crowned night-herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), seem to be having improved reproductive success, but data on Great Lakes'-wide population changes are incomplete. Reproductive success of common terns (Sterna hirundo), Caspian terns (Sterna caspia), and Forster's terns (Sterna forsteri) seems to have improved in recent years, but, again, data on population changes are not very complete, and these birds face many habitat related problems as well as contaminant problems. Although contaminants are still producing toxic effects, and these effects may include endocrine disfunction, fish-eating birds in the Great Lakes seem to be largely weathering these effects, at least as far as populations are concerned. A lack of obvious contaminant effects on populations of fish-eating birds in the Great Lakes, however, should not be equated with a lack of any harm to these birds or with a conclusion that certain contaminants do not need additional control.
Additional Publication Details
Contaminant effects on Great Lakes' fish-eating birds: a population perspective