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Keywords:

  • Atmospheric transport;
  • Aleutian Islands;
  • Contaminants;
  • Birds;
  • Stable isotopes

Abstract

The presence and accumulation of persistent contaminants at high latitudes from long-range transport is an important environmental issue. Atmospheric transport has been identified as the source of pollutants in several arctic ecosystems and has the potential to severely impact high-latitude populations. Elevated levels of contaminants in Aleutian Island avifauna have been documented, but the great distance from potential industrial sources and the region's complex military history have confounded identification of contaminant origins. We sampled bird species across the natural longitudinal transect of the Aleutian Archipelago to test three contaminant source hypotheses. We detected patterns in some polychlorinated biphenyl congeners and mercury that indicate abandoned military installations as likely local point sources. Carbon isotopes were distinct among island groups, enabling us to rule out transfer through migratory prey species as a contaminant source. The long-range transport hypothesis was supported by significant west-to-east declines in contaminant concentrations for most detected organochlorines and some trace metals. Although relatively low at present, concentrations may increase in Aleutian fauna as Asian industrialization increases and emitted contaminants are atmospherically transported into the region, necessitating continued monitoring in this unique ecosystem.