Although wildlife risk assessments are generally based on the accumulation of environmental contaminants through food chains, wildlife may also ingest contaminants incidentally with sediment. Forty-two mute swans (Cygnus olor) were collected from unpolluted portions of central Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, USA, in spring 1995, and their intestinal digesta were analyzed for 13 metals (aluminum [Al], boron, barium, cadmium, copper [Cu], iron, magnesium, manganese, nickel, lead [Pb], strontium, vanadium, and zinc) and for acid-insoluble ash, a marker of sediment. Swan livers and sediment samples also were analyzed for the same metals. Group method of data handling demonstrated that the digesta Al, which is associated with clays, was the best predictor of digesta Pb. Adding concentrations of other metals as predictors did not improve the accuracy of the estimates of Pb concentrations from Al concentrations. The r2 of the equation relating the log of digesta Pb to the log of digesta Al was 0.86, whereas the r2 of the equation relating the log of digesta Pb to the log of digesta acid-insoluble ash was 0.50. Accounting for the sediment ingested was critical to determining the exposure of mute swans to Pb, as well as to some of the other metals, and sediment ingestion should be considered in ecotoxicological risk assessments of waterfowl. The mean of 7.4% acid-insoluble ash in the digesta corresponded to an estimated 3.2% sediment in the diet. The Pb concentrations in the digesta were two to three times the concentration that would have been predicted from sediment Pb concentrations; presumably, the swans had ingested clays high in Pb that had settled on the vegetation. The swans were probably not exposed to high Cu concentrations but nevertheless had hepatic Cu concentrations that would be considered very high if found in other species.
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