Measurements of Hg concentrations in avian eggs can be used to predict possible harm to reproduction, but it is not always possible to sample eggs. When eggs cannot be sampled, some substitute tissue, such as female blood, the diet of the breeding female, or down feathers of hatchlings, must be used. When female mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) were fed diets containing methylmercury chloride, the concentration of Hg in a sample of their blood was closely correlated with the concentration of Hg in the egg they laid the day they were bled (r2=0.88; p<0.001). Even when the blood sample was taken more than two weeks after an egg was laid, there was a strong correlation between Hg concentrations in female blood and eggs (r2=0.67; p<0.0002). When we plotted the dietary concentrations of Hg we fed to the egg-laying females against the concentrations of Hg in their eggs, the r2 value was 0.96 (p<0.0001). When the concentrations of Hg in the down feathers of newly hatched ducklings were plotted against Hg in the whole ducklings, the r 2 value was 0.99 ( p<0.0003). Although measuring Hg in eggs may be the most direct way of predicting possible embryotoxicity, our findings demonstrate that measuring Hg in the diet of breeding birds, in the blood of egg-laying females, or in down feathers of hatchlings all can be used to estimate what concentration of Hg may have been in the egg.
Additional publication details
Predicting mercury concentrations in mallard eggs from mercury in the diet or blood of adult females and from duckling down feathers