In a recent study at Kesterson Reservoir in California, selenium was shown to cause mortality and deformities in embryos of aquatic birds. The present study was conducted to determine if selenium or other contaminants in agricultural drainwater used for marsh management were likely to cause similar adverse effects in the nearby Grasslands area. Selenium concentrations were elevated (greater than 15 ppm, dry-weight) in livers of some birds of all species collected from the Grasslands. Mean selenium concentrations in all species sampled in the South Grasslands were significantly higher (P less than 0.05) than those from the 'control site', the Volta Wildlife Area. Mean selenium levels in black-necked stilts (Himantopus mexicanus) from the South Grasslands (35.6 ppm) were similar (P greater than 0.05) to levels in stilts from Kesterson (46.4 ppm), but means for American avocets (Recurvirostra americana) from the South Grasslands (67.3 ppm) were higher (P less than 0.05) than those from Kesterson (28.4 ppm). Bird eggs and fish from the Grasslands also contained elevated levels of selenium. Concentrations of eight heavy metals in fish generally reflected those patterns previously found in water entering the study areas. Of the organochlorines detected in fish, only DDE occurred at concentrations potentially harmful to birds (6.1 and 3.0 ppm, wet weight, at two South Grassland sites). The effect on avian health or reproduction of the other contaminants, singly or in combination, could not be determined. However, selenium levels were apparently sufficiently elevated in 1984 to have caused adverse effects on avian reproduction in the South Grasslands.
Additional publication details
Selenium contamination of the Grasslands, a major California waterfowl area