Breast feathers were used to estimate mercury levels in six marine birds nesting in the tropical western Indian Ocean, i.e. Sooty Tern (Sterna fuscata), Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus), Lesser Noddy (Anous tenuirostris), Audubon Shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri bailloni), Barau's Petrel (Pterodroma baraui) and the White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus). Juveniles consistently showed lower plumage mercury than adults. The lowest mean level was noted in juvenile Sooty Terns from the Glorioso Archipelago (0.05 μg g- 1). The highest levels were obtained for adult Barau's Petrels from Reunion Island (0.96 μg g- 1). An inter-site analysis of Sooty Tern showed higher mercury levels in birds nesting on Juan de Nova Island. Levels were low in comparison with values reported in the plumage of seabirds worldwide. The potential impacts of the size, the type (fish/cephalopod) and the origin (epi-/meso-pelagic) of prey on mercury intake in birds are discussed. Although the diet composition of individuals within a species appeared to be quite variable, combining results on mercury levels with common knowledge of each species allowed additional information on their dietary and foraging habits to be unraveled. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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