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The lead (Pb) lining of agriculture‐related subsidies: enhanced Golden Eagle growth rates tempered by Pb exposure

January 17, 2020

Supplementary food resources (e.g., subsidies) associated with agriculture can benefit wildlife species, increasing predictability and availability of food. Avian scavengers including raptors often utilize subsidies associated with both recreational hunting and pest shooting on agricultural lands. However, these subsidies can contain lead (Pb) fragments if they are culled with Pb‐based ammunition, potentially leading to Pb poisoning and physiological impairment in wildlife. Nesting Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) commonly forage in agricultural lands during the breeding season, and therefore, both adults and their nestlings are susceptible to Pb exposure from scavenging shot wildlife. We assessed drivers of Pb exposure in 258 nestling Golden Eagles (401 total blood samples), along with physiological and growth responses, in agricultural lands across four western states in the United States. We also evaluated the birds’ Pb stable isotope signatures to inform exposure sources. Twenty‐six percent of Golden Eagle nestlings contained Pb concentrations associated with subclinical poisoning for sensitive species (0.03–0.2 μg/g ww), 4% had Pb concentrations that exceeded subclinical poisoning benchmarks (0.2–0.5 μg/g ww), and <1% exceeded either concentrations associated with clinical poisoning (0.5–1.0 μg/g ww) and or those deemed to cause severe clinical poisoning (>1.0 μg/g ww). Lead concentrations were highest in nestlings with close proximity to fields that potentially provided subsidies and declined exponentially as distance to subsidies increased. However, close proximity to agriculture, and presumably subsidies, positively influenced nestling growth rates. Across the range of Pb exposure, nestlings experienced a 67% reduction in delta‐aminolevulinic acid dehydratase (δ‐ALAD) activity, suggesting nestlings may have been anemic or experiencing cellular damage. Isotopic ratios of 206Pb/207Pb increased non‐linearly with increasing blood Pb in Golden Eagle nestlings, and 45% of the birds were consistent with those of ammunition. However, above 0.10 μg/g ww, the proportion associated with ammunition increased to 89% of the nestlings. An improved understanding of how these positive (growth) and negative (physiology) effects associated with proximity to subsidies interact would be beneficial to managers when considering management scenarios and potentially evaluating any measures taken to reduce Pb exposure across the landscape.

Publication Year 2020
Title The lead (Pb) lining of agriculture‐related subsidies: enhanced Golden Eagle growth rates tempered by Pb exposure
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.3006
Authors Garth Herring, Collin Eagles-Smith, Jeremy A. Buck, Alyssa E. Shiel, Chris R. Vennum, Colleen Emery, Branden L. Johnson, David Leal, Julie A. Heath, Benjamin M Dudek, Charles R. Preston, Brian Woodbridge
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosphere
Index ID 70219598
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center