Methylmercury is a toxic form of mercury which persists in food webs for long periods of time and biomagnifies up successive trophic levels. Shorebirds breeding in the Arctic are exposed to methylmercury, derived from both natural and anthropogenic sources, when they ingest their invertebrate prey. Populations of many shorebird species are believed to be declining and one hypothesis for these declines is that they are due to detrimental effects of contaminants, including methylmercury. To test this hypothesis, we assessed mercury contamination in eggs of four Canadian Arctic-breeding shorebird species: black-bellied plover (Pluvialis squatarola), ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres), semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) and white-rumped sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis). Black-bellied plovers and ruddy turnstones are declining in the western hemisphere, whereas white-rumped sandpipers and semipalmated plovers have stable or slightly increasing populations. We found no relationship between egg mercury concentration and population trend for these four shorebird species. Intraspecific variation in mercury concentration was high. Notably, the mercury concentrations were much higher than levels found in a previous study of eggs of the same shorebird species from this same site, suggesting that mercury contamination may be subject to substantial inter-annual variation in the Canadian Arctic food web.
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