Mercury exposure to swallows breeding in Canada inferred from feathers grown on breeding and non-breeding grounds

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Kardynal, KJ
Jardine, TD
Génier, CSV
Bumelis, KH
Mitchell, GW
Evans, M
Hobson, KA
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2020
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Abstract

Aerial insectivorous birds such as swallows have been the steepest declining groups of birds in North America over the last 50 years but whether such declines are linked to contaminants has not been examined. We sampled feathers from five species of swallow at multiple locations to assess total mercury [THg] exposure for adults during the non-breeding season, and for juveniles on the breeding grounds. We assessed Hg exposure to juvenile birds in crop- and grass-dominated landscapes to determine if land-use practices influenced feather [THg]. We assayed feathers for stable isotopes (δ2H, δ13C, δ15N) as proxies for relative habitat use and diet to determine their potential influence on feather [THg]. Feather [THg] was highest in adult bank swallows (Riparia riparia) and purple martins (Progne subis) from Saskatchewan and adult cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) from western regions, indicating differential exposure to Hg on the non-breeding grounds. Juvenile bank, barn (Hirundo rustica) and tree (Tachycineta bicolor) swallows had lower feather [THg] in crop-dominated landscapes than grass-dominated landscapes in Saskatchewan, potentially resulting from lower use of wetland-derived insects due to wetland drainage and intensive agriculture. Feather [THg] was related to juvenile feather stable isotopes for several species, suggesting complex interactions with diet and environmental factors. Many individuals had feather [THg] values >2 µg/g, a threshold at which deleterious effects may occur. Our findings indicate differential Hg exposure among species of swallow, regions and land-uses and highlight the need for additional research to determine dietary and finer-scale land-use impacts on individual species and populations.

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Ecotoxicology

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29

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7

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Chemical sciences

Environmental sciences

Biological sciences

Aerial insectivore

Agriculture

Land-use

Mercury

Species at risk

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Kardynal, KJ; Jardine, TD; Génier, CSV; Bumelis, KH; Mitchell, GW; Evans, M; Hobson, KA, Mercury exposure to swallows breeding in Canada inferred from feathers grown on breeding and non-breeding grounds, Ecotoxicology, 2020, 29 (7), pp. 876-891

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