Maternal transfer of contaminants in birds: Mercury and selenium concentrations in parents and their eggs

Environmental Pollution
By: , and 

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Abstract

We conducted a detailed assessment of the maternal transfer of mercury and selenium to eggs in three bird species (n = 107 parents and n = 339 eggs), and developed predictive equations linking contaminant concentrations in eggs to those in six tissues of the mother (blood, muscle, liver, kidney, breast feathers, and head feathers). Mercury concentrations in eggs were positively correlated with mercury concentrations in each of the mother's internal tissues (R2 ≥ 0.95), but generally not with feathers. For each species, the proportion of mercury transferred to eggs decreased as mercury concentrations in the mother increased. At the same maternal mercury concentration, the proportion of mercury transferred to eggs differed among species, such that Forster's tern (Sterna forsteri) and black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) females transferred more methylmercury to their eggs than American avocet (Recurvirostra americana) females. Selenium concentrations in eggs also were correlated with selenium concentrations in the mother's liver (R2 = 0.87). Furthermore, mercury and selenium concentrations in tern eggs were positively correlated with those in the father (R2 = 0.84). Incubating male terns had 21% higher mercury concentrations in blood compared to incubating females at the same egg mercury concentration. We provide equations to predict contaminant concentrations in eggs from each of the commonly sampled bird tissues.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Maternal transfer of contaminants in birds: Mercury and selenium concentrations in parents and their eggs
Series title Environmental Pollution
DOI 10.1016/j.envpol.2015.12.016
Volume 210
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Western Ecological Research Center, Contaminant Biology Program
Description 10 p.
First page 145
Last page 154
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