Sixty common murre (Uria aalge) and 27 thick-billed murre (Uria lomvia) eggs collected by the Seabird Tissue Archival and Monitoring Project (STAMP) in 1999-2001 from two Gulf of Alaska and three Bering Sea nesting colonies were analyzed for total mercury (Hg) using isotope dilution cold vapor inductively coupled mass spectrometry. Hg concentrations (wet mass) ranged from 0.011 ??g/g to 0.357 ??g/g (relative standard deviation = 76%), while conspecifics from the same colonies and years had an average relative standard deviation of 33%. Hg levels in eggs from the Gulf of Alaska (0.166 ??g/g ?? 0.011 ??g/g) were significantly higher (p < 0.0001) than in the Bering Sea (0.047 ??g/g ?? 0.004 ??g/g). Within the Bering Sea, Hg was significantly higher (p = 0.0007) in eggs from Little Diomede Island near the arctic than at the two more southern colonies. Although thick-billed and common murres are ecologically similar, there were significant species differences in egg Hg concentrations within each region (p < 0.0001). In the Bering Sea, eggs from thick-billed murres had higher Hg concentrations than eggs from common murres, while in the Gulf of Alaska, common murre eggs had higher concentrations than those of thick-billed murres. A separate one-way analysis of variance on the only time-trend data currently available for a colony (St. Lazaria Island in the Gulf of Alaska) found significantly lower Hg concentrations in common murre eggs collected in 2001 compared to 1999 (p = 0.017). Results from this study indicate that murre eggs may be effective monitoring units for detecting geographic, species, and temporal patterns of Hg contamination in marine food webs. The relatively small intracolony variation in egg Hg levels and the ability to consistently obtain adequate sample sizes both within and among colonies over a large geographic range means that monitoring efforts using murre eggs will have suitable statistical power for detecting environmental patterns of Hg contamination. The potential influences of trophic effects, physical transport patterns, and biogeochemical processes on these monitoring efforts are discussed, and future plans to investigate the sources of the observed variability are presented.
Additional publication details
Murre eggs (Uria aalge and Uria lomvia) as indicators of mercury contamination in the Alaskan marine environment