North American osprey populations and contaminants: Historic and contemporary perspectives

Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B: Critical Reviews
By: , and 



Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) populations were adversely affected by DDT and perhaps other contaminants in the United States and elsewhere. Reduced productivity, eggshell thinning, and high DDE concentrations in eggs were the signs associated with declining osprey populations in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The species was one of the first studied on a large scale to bring contaminant issues into focus. Although few quantitative population data were available prior to the 1960s, many osprey populations in North America were studied during the 1960s and 1970s with much learned about basic life history and biology. This article reviews the historical and current effects of contaminants on regional osprey populations. Breeding populations in many regions of North America showed post-DDT-era (1972) population increases of varying magnitudes, with many populations now appearing to stabilize at much higher numbers than initially reported in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the magnitude of regional population increases in the United States between 1981 (first Nationwide Survey, ∼8,000 pairs), when some recovery had already occurred, 1994 (second survey, ∼14,200), and 2001 (third survey, ∼16,000–19,000), or any other years, is likely not a simple response to the release from earlier contaminant effects, but a response to multi-factorial effects. This indirect “contaminant effects” measurement comparing changes (i.e., recovery) in post-DDT-era population numbers over time is probably confounded by changing human attitudes toward birds of prey (shooting, destroying nests, etc.), changing habitats, changing fish populations, and perhaps competition from other species. The species' adaptation to newly created reservoirs and its increasing use of artificial nesting structures (power poles, nesting platforms, cell towers, channel markers, offshore duck blinds, etc.) are two important factors. The timing of the initial use of artificial nesting structures, which replaced declining numbers of suitable trees at many locations, varied regionally (much later in the western United States and Mexico). Because of the increasing use of artificial nesting structures, there may be more ospreys nesting in North America now than ever before. Now, with the impact of most legacy organic contaminants (DDT, other organochlorine [OC] pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls [PCB], polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins [PCDD], polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDF]) greatly reduced or eliminated, and some osprey populations showing evidence of stabilizing, the species was proposed as a Worldwide Sentinel Species for evaluating emerging contaminants. Several emerging contaminants are already being studied, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) and perfluorinated acids and sulfonate compounds (PFC). The many advantages for continued contaminant investigations using the osprey include a good understanding of its biology and ecology, its known distribution and abundance, and its ability to habituate to humans and their activities, which permits nesting in some of the potentially most contaminated environments. It is a top predator in most ecosystems, and its nests are relatively easy to locate and study with little researcher impact on reproductive success.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title North American osprey populations and contaminants: Historic and contemporary perspectives
Series title Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B: Critical Reviews
DOI 10.1080/10937404.2010.538658
Volume 13
Issue 7-8
Year Published 2010
Language English
Publisher Taylor & Francis
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Contaminant Biology Program
Description 25 p.
First page 579
Last page 603
Other Geospatial North America
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