Methylmercury has been suspected as a cause of impaired reproduction in wild birds, but the confounding effects of other environmental stressors has made it difficult to determine how much mercury in the eggs of these wild species is harmful. Even when a sample egg can be collected from the nest of a wild bird and the mercury concentration in that egg compared to the laboratory-derived thresholds for reproductive impairment, additional information on the mercury levels in other eggs from that nest would be helpful in determining whether harmful levels of mercury were present in the clutch. The measurement of mercury levels in chorioallantoic membranes offers a possible way to estimate how much mercury was in a chick that hatched from an egg, and also in the whole fresh egg itself. While an embryo is developing, wastes are collected in a sac called the chorioallantoic membranes, which often remain inside the eggshell and can be collected for contaminant analysis. We fed methylmercury to captive mallards to generate a broad range of mercury levels in eggs, allowed the eggs to hatch normally, and then compared mercury concentrations in the hatchling versus the chorioallantoic membranes left behind in the eggshell. When the data from eggs laid by mercury- treated females were expressed as common logarithms, a linear equation was created by which the concentration of mercury in a duckling could be predicted from the concentration of mercury in the chorioallantoic membranes from the same egg. Therefore, if it were not possible to collect a sample egg from a clutch of wild bird eggs, the collection of the chorioallantoic membranes could be substituted, and the mercury predicted to be in the chick or whole egg could be compared to the thresholds of mercury that have been shown to cause harm in controlled feeding studies with pheasants, chickens, and mallards.
Additional Publication Details
Predicting mercury in mallard ducklings from mercury in chorioallantoic membranes
Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology