During 2010-2014, tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) reproductive success was monitored at 68 sites across all 5 Great Lakes, including 58 sites located within Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) and 10 non-AOCs. Sample eggs were collected from tree swallow clutches and analyzed for contaminants including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and furans, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, and 34 other organic compounds. Contaminant data were available for 360 of the clutches monitored. Markov chain multistate modeling was used to assess the importance of 5 ecological variables and 11 of the dominant contaminants in explaining the pattern of egg and nestling failure rates. Four of 5 ecological variables (Female Age, Date within season, Year, and Site) were important explanatory variables. Of the 11 contaminants, only total dioxin and furan toxic equivalents (TEQs) explained a significant amount of the egg failure probabilities. Neither total PCBs nor PCB TEQs explained the variation in egg failure rates. In a separate analysis, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon exposure in nestling diet, used as a proxy for female diet during egg laying, was significantly correlated with the daily probability of egg failure. The 8 sites within AOCs which had poorer reproduction when compared to 10 non-AOC sites, the measure of impaired reproduction as defined by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, were associated with exposure to dioxins and furan TEQs, PAHs, or depredation. Only 2 sites had poorer reproduction than the poorest performing non-AOC. Using a classic (non-modeling) approach to estimating reproductive success, 82% of nests hatched at least 1 egg, and 75% of eggs laid, excluding those collected for contaminant analyses, hatched.
Additional publication details
Reproductive success and contaminant associations in tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) used to assess a Beneficial Use Impairment in U.S. and Binational Great Lakes’ Areas of Concern
National Wildlife Health Center, Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center