Dynamics of mercury in blood and feathers of great skuas

Authors

  • Stuart Bearhop,

    Corresponding author
    1. Ornithology Group, Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, United Kingdom
    • Ornithology Group, Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, United Kingdom
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  • Graeme D. Ruxton,

    1. Ornithology Group, Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, United Kingdom
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  • Robert W. Furness

    1. Ornithology Group, Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, United Kingdom
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Abstract

Mercury dynamics in the blood and feathers of captive great skuas, Catharacta skua, were monitored over 56 weeks. Prior to the onset of molt, mercury intake was solely from their maintenance ration of sprats, Sprattus sprattus. For the first half of molt, in addition to mercury intake from sprats, birds were fed different doses of methylmercuric chloride weekly for 20 weeks. During the second half of molt, dosing was stopped and mercury intake was solely from sprats. Blood was sampled throughout the study and feather growth was monitored. Prior to the onset of molt, mercury concentrations increased over the first 51 to 71 d and appeared to level off after this period. Repeated dosing models based on mammalian pharmacokinetics were, in general, too simplistic to be applicable to the birds in the study. During molt, the elimination of mercury from the blood is probably best described by a three-compartment model. Mercury concentrations in feathers were significantly correlated with those in blood at the time of their growth, suggesting that blood and feathers reflect mercury intake over the same time period. Individuals varied in their ability to excrete ingested mercury into the feathers.

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