Extensive waterfowl mortality involving thousands of ducks, geese, and swans has occurred annually at Eagle River Flats, Alaska since at least 1982. The primary agent for this mortality has been identified as white phosphorus. Although acute and subacute lethality have been described, sublethal effects are less well known. This study reports on the effects of white phosphorus on reproductive function in the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) in captivity. Fertility, hatching success, teratogenicity, and egg laying frequency were examined in 70 adult female mallards who received up to 7 daily doses of 0, 0.5, 1.0, and 2.0 mg/kg of white phosphorus. Measurements of fertility and hatchability were reduced by the white phosphorus. Teratogenic effects were observed in embryos from hens dosed at all treatment levels. Egg laying frequency was reduced even at the lowest treatment level; treated hens required a greater number of days to lay a clutch of 12 eggs than control hens. After two doses at 2.0 mg/kg, all females stopped laying completely for a minimum of 10 days and laying frequency was depressed for at least 45 days. Fertility of 10 adult male mallards dosed with 1.0 mg/kg of white phosphorus did not differ from 10 controls, but plasma testosterone levels were significantly (p < 0.05) reduced in the treated males 1 day after dosing ended. These results provide evidence that productivity of free-ranging mallards may be impaired if they are exposed to white phosphorus at typical field levels.
Additional publication details
Effects of white phosphorus on mallard reproduction