The use of novel biomarkers to determine dietary mercury accumulation in nestling waterbirds



Mercury (Hg) depuration into growing feathers is a well-studied phenomenon in waterbirds. Although the kinetics of Hg excretion in relation to molt and diet has been studied extensively, the relationship between the individual nutritional condition of nestlings and dietary Hg accumulation has not been investigated. In the present study, a body-condition index (BCI) and nutritional condition index (NCI) for nestlings of two waterbird species occupying different trophic positions on the aquatic food web were determined and used to predict Hg accumulation through diet. Candidate models consisting of these indices and nestling age were compared using Akaike's information criterion corrected for small sample sizes. For both species, the top-performing model contained the sole parameter of nutritional condition index (NCI). The relationship between Hg and NCI was stronger in the species foraging higher on the trophic web, which experienced higher rates of Hg depuration into feathers. Models containing BCI could not be discounted (AICc < 2) for one of the species and the utility of this index is discussed. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2012; 31: 1143–1148. © 2012 SETAC