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Small mammal shooting as a conduit for lead exposure in avian scavengers

September 2, 2021

Lead (Pb) exposure is a widespread wildlife conservation threat. Although commonly associated with Pb-based ammunition from big-game hunting, small mammals (e.g., ground squirrels) shot for recreational or pest-management purposes represent a potentially important Pb vector in agricultural regions. We measured the responses of avian scavengers to pest-shooting events and examined their Pb exposure through consumption of shot mammals. There were 3.4-fold more avian scavengers at shooting fields relative to those at fields with no recent shooting, and avian scavengers spent 1.8-fold more time feeding after recent shooting events. We isotopically labeled shot ground squirrels in the field with an enriched 15N isotope tracer; 6% of avian scavengers sampled within a 39 km radius reflected this tracer in their blood. However, 33% of the avian scavengers within the average foraging dispersal distance of nests (0.6−3.7 km) were labeled, demonstrating the importance of these shooting fields as a source of food for birds nesting in close proximity. Additionally, Pb concentrations in 48% of avian scavengers exceeded subclinical poisoning benchmarks for sensitive species (0.03−0.20 μg/g w/w), and those birds exhibited reduced δ-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase activity, indicating a biochemical effect of Pb. The use of shooting to manage small mammal pests is a common practice globally. Efforts that can reduce the use of Pb-based ammunition may lessen the negative physiological effects of Pb exposure on avian scavengers.

Publication Year 2021
Title Small mammal shooting as a conduit for lead exposure in avian scavengers
DOI 10.1021/acs.est.1c01041
Authors Garth Herring, Collin Eagles-Smith, John Goodell, Jeremy A. Buck, James Willacker
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Science and Technology
Index ID 70230112
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center