Mercury and drought along the lower Carson River, Nevada: IV. Snowy egret post-fledging dispersal, timing of migration and survival, 2002–2004

Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety
By: , and 

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Abstract

This telemetry study is an extension of our 1997–2006 research on historical mercury contamination on snowy egrets (Egretta thula) up to ~ 20 days of age. Findings from initial studies at the mercury-contaminated Carson River colony at Lahontan Reservoir (LR) and a similar-sized reference (REF) colony on the Humboldt River included mercury-related physiological, biochemical, histopathological and reproductive effects up to ~20 days of age; with poor water years (2000–04), i.e., reduced prey availability, exacerbating effects. Herein, we compare timing of dispersal and migration at LR vs. REF, but the primary question now addressed is “whether survival of young mercury-exposed snowy egrets from LR would be further compromised beyond ~20 days of age? ” Based upon telemetry signals until 90–110 days of age (including dead bird counts and survival rate estimates), we conclude that mercury did not further compromise survival. Dead bird counts and survival rate estimates included time in the colony when fed by adults, plus the critical period when young dispersed from the colony to forage independently. The extended drought during this 3-year study was most critical in 2002 when production of ~20 d old egrets at LR was only 0.24 young/nest. In 2002, survival rates were low at both colonies and we documented the highest counts of dead egrets for both colonies. We suggest the losses in 2002 beyond 20 days of age were more a function of prey availability influenced by drought than exposure to mercury, especially at LR, because higher mercury concentrations, higher survival rates and fewer dead birds were documented at LR in 2003 when water conditions improved. Furthermore, total mercury (THg) in blood in 2003 was more than double 2002 (geometric mean, 3.39 vs 1.47 µg/g wet weight (ww). This higher THg exposure at LR in 2003 was associated with a redistribution of parent and post-dispersal feeding activities upstream (where there was higher mercury from historic mining) related to slightly improved water levels. When comparing the 3-year telemetry findings based upon ~20 d old young at LR (blood THg, geo. means 1.47, 3.39 and 1.89 µg/g ww), we found no evidence that age at dispersal, Julian date at dispersal, timing of migration, or pre-migration survival (~20 to ~100 days post-hatch) were adversely affected by elevated mercury.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Mercury and drought along the lower Carson River, Nevada: IV. Snowy egret post-fledging dispersal, timing of migration and survival, 2002–2004
Series title Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety
DOI 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2016.10.002
Volume 135
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 10 p.
First page 358
Last page 367
Country United States
State Nevada
City Carsen City, Elko