High levels of ingested Al can affect mechanical properties of bones. Because of the spring action of the furcula during the wingbeat, small changes in the mechanical properties of this bone may have measurable impacts on long-distance flight. We examined the furculae and ingesta of free- ranging American coots (Fulica americana) in San Francisco Bay (California, USA), where they consume a diet high in Al. We measured the spring stiffness and phase angle (??) of the furculae and the concentrations of Al, Ca, F. Mg, and P in both the furculae and ingesta. The ingesta had mean Al concentrations (2,384 ??g/g, dry weight) and Al:P molar ratios (6.4:1) predicted to affect bone integrity but the bone concentrations of Al were near the normal range and the furcula stiffness did not change with Al concentration. The tan ?? of the furculae changed with Al concentration but the relationship was weak. The chemical speciation of the ingested Al may have affected its physiologic role and the high mean levels of ingested calcium (71,283 ??g/g, dry weight) very likely neutralized the activity of the Al. Controlled feeding studies have shown that F strengthens avian bones. The bones in our study had molar concentrations of F more than two orders of magnitude greater than Al (170:1) but F appears to have insignificant influence on bone mechanics. The coots in San Francisco Bay apparently are not suffering furcula impairment despite a diet high in Al.
Additional publication details
Effect of high aluminum consumption on mechanics and composition of furculae of free-ranging coots