Arctic Terns: Coastal birds carry toxic ocean metals inland

Science Daily – A collaborative research team led by Queen’s University biologists has found that potent metals like mercury and lead, ingested by Arctic seabirds feeding in the ocean, end up in the sediment of polar ponds. “Birds feeding on different diets will funnel different ‘cocktails’ of metal contaminants from the ocean back to terrestrial ecosystems, which can then affect other living organisms,” says lead author Neal Michelutti, a research scientist at Queen’s Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Lab (PEARL) … The team collected sediment cores from two ponds on a small island in the Canadian Arctic that is home to the nests of two kinds of seabirds: Arctic terns, which feed primarily on fish, and common eider ducks which feed mainly on mollusks. The researchers analyzed the pond sediment for metals and other indicators of the birds’ activity.

Abstract: “Trophic position influences the efficacy of seabirds as metal biovectors” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, June 08, 2010).

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