Portable X-ray fluorescence for bone lead measurements of Australian eagles
Hampton, JO and Specht, AJ and Pay, JM and Pokras, MA and Bengsen, AJ, Portable X-ray fluorescence for bone lead measurements of Australian eagles, Science of The Total Environment, 789 Article 147998. ISSN 0048-9697 (2021) [Refereed Article]
Lead (Pb) toxicity from ammunition has been shown to be a threat to scavenging birds across the globe. Toxic levels of lead have recently been found in Australia's largest bird of prey, the wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax), through inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) analysis of liver and bone samples. However, ICP-MS is consumptive (causing damage to archived specimens), time-consuming, and expensive. For these reasons, portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) devices have been optimized to measure bone lead in North American avian species, humans, and other environmental samples. In this study, we assessed portable XRF for bone lead measurement in Australian raptors in two parts. First, we validated the method using tissues from wedge-tailed eagles from Tasmania (A. a. fleayi), analysing bone samples taken from sites on the femur immediately adjacent to sites for which we had ICP-MS data (n = 89). Second, we measured lead via portable XRF in the skulls of wedge-tailed eagles from south-eastern mainland Australia (A. a. audax) collected during a criminal prosecution (n = 92). Portable XRF bone lead measurement demonstrated an excellent correlation with ICP-MS results using root-transformed regression (R2 = 0.88). Calculated equivalent ICP-MS values revealed that greater than 50% of the eagles from mainland Australia had elevated lead levels (> 10 mg/kg) and 13% had severe lead exposure (> 20 mg/kg). Our results support previous studies of North American avian species and suggest that portable XRF could be a useful and inexpensive option for measurement of bone lead in Australian scavenger species.