Mercury concentrations vary within and among individual bird feathers: A critical evaluation and guidelines for feather use in mercury monitoring programs

Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
By: , and 

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Abstract

Feathers are widely used to represent mercury contamination in birds. Yet, few recommendations exist that provide guidance for using bird feathers in mercury monitoring programs. We conducted a literature review and 5 experiments to show that mercury concentrations vary substantially within (vane >100% higher than calamus) and among (>1000%) individual feathers from the same bird. We developed a research tool and guidelines for using bird feathers for mercury studies based on three components: 1) variability of feather mercury concentrations within an individual bird (coefficient of variation [CV]), 2) desired accuracy of the measured mercury concentration, and 3) feather and bird mass. Our results suggest a general rule that if the goal is to limit analytical and processing costs by using whole feathers in only one sample boat, then to achieve an accuracy within 10% of a bird’s overall average feather mercury concentration a bird with a CV≤10% must be <190 g (size of large shorebird). To achieve an accuracy within 20%, a bird with a CV≤10% must be <920 g (size of large duck). When >1 sample boat is needed to fit the required number of feathers to achieve the desired accuracy, results suggest homogenizing feathers and analyzing an aliquot of ≥20 mg for mercury. This study indicates increasing the number of feathers typically used per bird to assess mercury concentrations.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Mercury concentrations vary within and among individual bird feathers: A critical evaluation and guidelines for feather use in mercury monitoring programs
Series title Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
DOI 10.1002/etc.4430
Volume 38
Issue 6
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 24 p.
First page 1164
Last page 1187