Contaminants and Environmental Pathways

Science Center Objects

Living things are intricately connected to each other and to the air, water, and soil that surrounds them. Our research looks at how contaminants move through the environment and living things to understand the chemical and physiological processes and ecological factors that influence exposure and risk in wildlife.

Laughing gull (Larus atricilla)

Laughing gull, Larus atricilla (Public domain.)

 

Identifying the Genetic Basis of Avian Susceptibility to Mercury

Mercury is a highly toxic element found throughout our environment. Although it occurs naturally in some environments, human industrial pollution has greatly increased the amount of mercury and the range of environments in which mercury is found. Recent studies have confirmed clear differences in the sensitivity of various bird species to methylmercury. Because the causes of these differences are unknown, prediction of mercury sensitivity is difficult in birds that have not or cannot be studied in the lab. Therefore, a method is needed that can predict sensitivity to mercury in poorly studied birds and can help identify susceptible populations.

 

 

Eisenoides lonnbergi, a native earthworm, found to contain extremely high concentrations of lead

Eisenoides lonnbergi, a native earthworm, found to contain extremely high concentrations of lead. (Public domain.)

 

A Native Earthworm Accumulates Extraordinarily High Concentrations of Lead

As a rule, plants and animals contain lower concentrations of lead than are present in soils that support them. Lead does not biomagnify along trophic levels in ecosystems but instead remains relatively immobile in soil. The exposure of wildlife to soil lead depends mainly on the incidental ingestion of soil. The native earthworm, Eisenoides lonnbergi, is anomalous in its ability to concentrate lead from acidic soils.  This raises the question what makes this earthworm so different from other organisms that have been studied.  As a rule, plants and animals contain lower concentrations of lead than are present in soils that support them. Lead does not biomagnify along trophic levels in ecosystems but instead remains relatively immobile in soil. The exposure of wildlife to soil lead depends mainly on the incidental ingestion of soil. The native earthworm, Eisenoides lonnbergi, is anomalous in its ability to concentrate lead from acidic soils.  This raises the question what makes this earthworm so different from other organisms that have been studied. 

Osprey Fledglings still in the nest

Osprey Fledglings still in the nest (Public domain.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contaminant Exposure, Food Web Transfer and Potential Health Effects on Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay Waterbirds

Agricultural, industrial and urban activities have had major effects on waterbirds in Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. Some legacy pollutants (PCBs, organochlorine pesticides, flame retardants, metals) pose a potential threat to wildlife in some locations. Pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and endocrine disrupting compounds have been detected in water and fish tissue, yet knowledge of effects on wildlife is limited. This is the first study to examine bioaccumulation of pharmaceuticals and their fate in the water-fish-osprey food chain.