Relationships between mercury burden, sex, and sexually selected feather ornaments in crested auklet (Aethia cristatella)

Alexander L Bond, Ian L Jones

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    Abstract

    Individuals with higher contaminant burdens are expected to be in poorer physical health and be of lower individual body condition and energetic status, potentially resulting in reduced ornamentation or increased asymmetry in bilateral features. The degree and magnitude of this effect also would be expected to vary by sex, as female birds depurate contaminants into eggs. We tested for relationships among mercury in feathers, sex, and elaborate feather ornaments that relate to individual quality in crested auklets (Aethia cristatella), small planktivorous seabirds in the North Pacific Ocean. We found no relationships between mercury and the size of individuals' forehead crest or degree of measurement asymmetry in auricular plumes, both of which are favoured by intersexual selection. Females had significantly greater mercury concentrations than males (females. 1.02 ± 0.39 μg/g; males, 0.75 ± 0.32 μg/g); but concentrations were below that known to have physiological effects, as expected for a secondary consumer. Sex differences in overwintering area for this long-distance migrant species (more females in the Kuroshio Current Large Marine Ecosystem than males) could be the reason for this seemingly counterintuitive result between sexes. Further research relating mercury burden to overwintering ecology and diet contents would build on our results and further elucidate interrelationships between sex, sexually selected feather ornaments and contaminant burden.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-6
    Number of pages6
    JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
    Early online date4 Mar 2020
    DOIs
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Mar 2020

    Keywords

    • Alcidae
    • Asymmetry
    • Mercury
    • Ornament
    • Quality

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