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Geographic trend in mercury measured in common loon feathers and blood

February 28, 1998

The common loon (Gavia immer) is a high‐trophic‐level, long‐lived, obligate piscivore at risk from elevated levels of Hg through biomagnification and bioaccumulation. From 1991 to 1996 feather (n = 455) and blood (n = 381) samples from adult loons were collected between June and September in five regions of North America: Alaska, northwestern United States, Upper Great Lakes, New England, and the Canadian Maritimes. Concentrations of Hg in adults ranged from 2.8 to 36.7 μg/g (fresh weight) in feathers and from 0.12 to 7.80 μg/g (wet weight) in whole blood. Blood Hg concentrations in 3 to 6‐week‐old juveniles ranged from 0.03 to 0.78 μg/g (wet weight) (n = 183). To better interpret exposure data, relationships between blood and feather Hg concentrations were examined among age and sex classes. Blood and feather Hg concentrations from the same individuals were significantly correlated and varied geographically (r2 ranged from 0.03 to 0.48). Blood and feather Hg correlated strongest in areas with the highest blood Hg levels, indicating a possible carryover of breeding season Hg that is depurated during winter remigial molt. Mean blood and feather Hg concentrations in males were significantly higher than concentrations in females for each region. The mean blood Hg concentration in adults was 10 times higher than that in juveniles, and feather Hg concentrations significantly increased over 1 to 4‐year periods in recaptured individuals. Geographic stratification indicates a significant increasing regional trend in adult and juvenile blood Hg concentrations from west to east. This gradient resembles U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‐modeled predictions of total anthropogenic Hg deposition across the United States. This gradient is clearest across regions. Within‐region blood Hg concentrations in adults and juveniles across nine sites of one region, the Upper Great Lakes, were less influenced by variations in geographic Hg deposition than by hydrology and lake chemistry. Loons breeding on low‐pH lakes in the Upper Great Lakes and in all lake types of northeastern North America are most at risk from Hg.

Publication Year 1998
Title Geographic trend in mercury measured in common loon feathers and blood
DOI 10.1002/etc.5620170206
Authors Joseph D. Kaplan, Michael W. Meyer, Peter S. Reaman, W. Emmett Braselton, A. Major, Neil Burgess, Anton M. Scheuhammer
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Index ID 70210058
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse