High frequency of lead exposure in the population of an endangered Australian top predator, the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax fleayi)

Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
By: , and 

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Abstract

Lead poisoning, mainly through incidental ingestion of lead ammunition in carcasses, is a threat to scavenging and predatory bird species worldwide. In Australia, shooting for animal control is widespread, and a range of native scavenging species are susceptible to lead exposure. However, the prevalence of lead exposure in Australia's scavenging and predatory birds is largely unknown. We evaluated the degree to which the Tasmanian wedge‐tailed eagle (Aquila audax fleayi), an endangered Australian raptor and facultative scavenger, showed evidence of lead exposure. We detected lead in 100% of femur and liver tissues of 109 eagle carcasses opportunistically collected throughout Tasmania between 1996 and 2018. Concentrations were elevated in 10% of 106 liver (> 6 mg/kg dw) and 4% of 108 femur (> 10 mg/kg dw) samples. We also detected lead in 96% of blood samples taken from 24 live nestlings, with 8% at elevated concentrations (> 10 μg/dL). Of the liver samples with elevated lead, 73% had lead207/206 isotope ratios within the published range of lead‐based bullets available in Tasmania. These first comprehensive data on lead exposure of an Australian raptor are comparable to those for raptor studies elsewhere that identify lead‐based ammunition exposure as a conservation threat. Our findings highlight the importance of further research and efforts to address lead contamination throughout the Tasmanian ecosystem and in other Australian regions.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title High frequency of lead exposure in the population of an endangered Australian top predator, the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax fleayi)
Series title Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
DOI 10.1002/etc.4914
Volume 40
Issue 1
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 12 p.
First page 219
Last page 230
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