Mercury (Hg) is increasing in marine food webs, especially at high latitudes. The bioaccumulation and biomagnification of methyl mercury (MeHg) has serious effects on wildlife, and is most evident in apex predators. The MeHg body burden in birds is the balance of ingestion and excretion, and MeHg in feathers is an effective indicator of overall MeHg burden. Ivory gulls (Pagophila eburnea), which consume ice-associated prey and scavenge marine mammal carcasses, have the highest egg Hg concentrations of any Arctic bird, and the species has declined by more than 80% since the 1980s in Canada. We used feathers from museum specimens from the Canadian Arctic and western Greenland to assess whether exposure to MeHg by ivory gulls increased from 1877 to 2007. Based on constant feather stable-isotope (δ13C, δ15N) values, there was no significant change in ivory gulls' diet over this period, but feather MeHg concentrations increased 45× (from 0.09 to 4.11 µg g−1 in adults). This dramatic change in the absence of a dietary shift is clear evidence of the impact of anthropogenic Hg on this high-latitude threatened species. Bioavailable Hg is expected to increase in the Arctic, raising concern for continued population declines in high-latitude species that are far from sources of environmental contaminants.
|Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences
|Published - 18 Mar 2015