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Contaminants in eggs of western snowy plovers and California least terns: is there a link to population decline?

January 1, 2000

Environmental contaminants may have adverse effects on avian reproduction and may be contributing to declines of avian species nesting along the southern California Coast. Examples of impaired reproduction caused by organochlorine pesticides, PCBs, and elements such as mercury (Hg) and selenium (Se) include delayed ovulation, reduced egg production, defective eggshells, decreased hatchability, embryotoxicosis, aberrant incubation behavior, and mortality of chicks and adults (Heinz 1976; Blus 1982; Ohlendorf et al. 1986).

The federal government listed the California least tern (Sterna antillarum browni) as endangered in 1970 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1985). The Pacific Coast population of western snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus) was listed as threatened by the federal government in 1993 (Federal Register 1993). Habitat loss and human-related disturbance have been identified as primary causes of the decline of both the primarily insectivorous plover (Powell 1998) and the primarily piscivorous tern, but local food shortages have also limited the terns.

Both species breed along the highly urbanized coastline of southern California. A portion of the snowy plover population is present on the breeding grounds yearround, while the remainder winters along the Pacific Coast south into Baja California, Mexico (Stenzel et al. 1994). Least terns winter primarily along the Pacific Coast of Central America (Massey et al. 1992). This study was designed to evaluate the effects that contaminants acquired on the breeding or wintering grounds might be having on reproduction by snowy plovers and least terns.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2000
Title Contaminants in eggs of western snowy plovers and California least terns: is there a link to population decline?
Authors R.L. Hothern, A.N. Powell
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
Series Number
Index ID 1001678
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center