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Metal and isotope analysis of bird feathers in a contaminated estuary reveals bioaccumulation, biomagnification, and potential toxic effects


Einoder, LD and MacLeod, CK and Coughanowr, C, Metal and isotope analysis of bird feathers in a contaminated estuary reveals bioaccumulation, biomagnification, and potential toxic effects, Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 75, (1) pp. 96-110. ISSN 0090-4341 (2018) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright 2018 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature

DOI: doi:10.1007/s00244-018-0532-z


The Derwent estuary, in south east Tasmania, is highly contaminated with heavy metals, mainly due to past industrial pollution. This study sought to determine the extent of contamination, bioaccumulation, and biomagnification in the resident bird community and therefore to infer the potential for adverse effects in birds. Thirteen metals were measured from breast feathers (n = 51 individuals) of eight sympatric species of aquatic bird. Stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopes were used to identify dietary sources of contaminants, trophic level, and potential biomagnification through food chains. Generalised linear models revealed that metal burdens were often poorly correlated with δ 13C, indicating their uptake from a range of freshwater, brackish, and marine carbon sources—not surprising due to widespread contamination across the tidal estuary. Feather mercury increased significantly with trophic level (inferred from δ15N). White-bellied Sea-eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster samples contained 240 times more mercury than feral Goose Anser cygnoides. Feather arsenic and copper concentrations were significantly higher in birds feeding lower in the food chain. For several piscivorous species, both chick and adults were sampled revealing significantly higher feather mercury, zinc, and selenium in adults. Feathers from birds found dead along the banks of the estuary had significantly higher lead loads than from live birds, and numerous individuals had levels of mercury, zinc, and lead above toxic thresholds reported in other studies. These results highlight the need to include biota from higher trophic levels in contaminant monitoring programs to understand fully the fate and broader implications of contaminants in the environment.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:metals, isotopes, feathers, Derwent Estuary, contaminants
Research Division:Environmental Sciences
Research Group:Pollution and contamination
Research Field:Pollution and contamination not elsewhere classified
Objective Division:Health
Objective Group:Public health (excl. specific population health)
Objective Field:Public health (excl. specific population health) not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:MacLeod, CK (Associate Professor Catriona MacLeod)
ID Code:131902
Year Published:2018
Web of Science® Times Cited:13
Deposited By:Sustainable Marine Research Collaboration
Deposited On:2019-04-11
Last Modified:2019-05-07

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