As top consumers in food chains, birds of prey forage over large geographical areas and so might be expected to accumulate environmental contaminants which are distributed in the environment. These wild animals can offer opportunities to detect and assess the toxicological effects of different inorganic elements on terrestrial ecosystems. In this study, different raptor species, both diurnal and nocturnal, were investigated for heavy metal (Pb, Cd and Zn) and As concentrations in liver samples, with the aim of furnishing indirect information concerning contamination of their habitats. Dead animals were obtained with the special collaboration of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centres from Galicia (NW Spain). After sample wet digestion, metal analysis was performed by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). Hepatic concentrations of Zn and As, respectively, situated on the interval 147-298 and 1.21-6.88 ppm (dry weight, dw), could be considered as indicative of low and background amounts of both elements, with no ecotoxicological concern. Nevertheless, with respect to Pb, some diurnal raptors showed hepatic concentrations above the considered threshold value (6 ppm dw) for sublethal or lethal toxicity, the species with the highest hepatic level corresponding to a common buzzard (> 18 ppm, dw). Similarly, nocturnal raptors exceeded the threshold value for Cd (3 ppm dw), with a maximum corresponding to an individual barn owl (39 ppm, dw). In both cases, although concentrations could not be directly related to lethal effect, they might constitute a serious environmental factor affecting the survival of the considered populations. © 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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