Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Mercury Threatens Next Generation Of Loons

Date:
March 7, 2008
Source:
Wildlife Conservation Society
Summary:
Environmental mercury -- much of which comes from human-generated emissions -- is impacting both the health and reproductive success of common loons in the Northeastern US. Loons with high levels of mercury -- about 16 percent of the adult population in the study area -- were found to spend some 14 percent less time at the nest than normally behaving birds. Unattended nests have a higher rate of failure due to either chilling of the eggs or predation by minks, otters, raccoons and other egg robbers.

According to a long term study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the BioDiversity Research Institute, and others, common loons with elevated levels of environmental mercury become sluggish parents, raising fewer chicks to adulthood.
Credit: Copyright Nina Schoch

A long-term study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the BioDiversity Research Institute, and other organizations has found and confirmed that environmental mercury--much of which comes from human-generated emissions--is impacting both the health and reproductive success of common loons in the Northeast.

The results of the 18-year study on loons--a species symbolic of northern lakes and wilderness--appear in the most recent edition of Ecotoxicology.

"This study demonstrates how top predators such as common loons can be used as the proverbial 'canaries-in-the-coalmine' for pollutants that concern humans as well," said David C. Evers of the BioDiversity Research Institute and lead author of the study. "Our findings can be used to facilitate national and global decisions for regulating mercury emissions from coal-burning plants and other sources."

The study uses data from nearly 5,500 samples of blood, feathers, and eggs collected from captured and released loons from some 80 lakes in Maine, New York, New Hampshire, and other states and provinces. The researchers made correlations between the behaviors of individual birds and their levels of methylmercury, the most toxic form of mercury that accumulates up the food chain.

Loons with high levels of mercury--about 16 percent of the adult population in the study area--were found to spend some 14 percent less time at the nest than normally behaving birds. Unattended nests have a higher rate of failure due to either chilling of the eggs or predation by minks, otters, raccoons and other egg robbers.

With behavioral observations from 1,529 loon territories between 1996 and 2005, researchers found that loon pairs with elevated mercury levels also produced 41 percent fewer fledged young than loons in lakes relatively free of mercury. Other behavioral impacts due to elevated mercury were sluggishness, resulting in decreased foraging for fish by the adults for both themselves and for chicks.

In addition to behavior, the concentration of mercury in loons has physiological impacts as well.

Researchers found that loons with high mercury loads have unevenly sized flight feathers. Birds with wing asymmetries of more than 5 percent must expend 20 percent more energy than normal birds to fly, a deficiency that may impact their ability to migrate and maintain a breeding territory.

"This study confirms what we've long suspected--mercury from human activities such as coal-burning power plants--is having a significant negative impact on the environment and the health of its most charismatic denizens, and potentially, to humans, too," said Nina Schoch of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Adirondack Program. "Thus, it becomes even more urgent for the EPA to propose effective national regulations for mercury emissions from power plants that are based on sound science."

Although many northeastern states have implemented stringent mercury emission rules, a nationwide regulation has yet to be passed. The U.S. District Court of Appeals recently struck down the EPA's proposed Cap-and-Trade Rule for mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, which would have led to localized "hotspots" of mercury, a highly toxic pollutant. "The ecological impacts of mercury identified in this study illustrate the need for comprehensive, national regulations to limit mercury emissions," added Schoch.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wildlife Conservation Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Wildlife Conservation Society. "Mercury Threatens Next Generation Of Loons." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 March 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080304120752.htm>.
Wildlife Conservation Society. (2008, March 7). Mercury Threatens Next Generation Of Loons. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080304120752.htm
Wildlife Conservation Society. "Mercury Threatens Next Generation Of Loons." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080304120752.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Monday, July 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

AP (July 28, 2014) AP Investigation: As the Obama administration weans the country off dirty fuels, energy companies are ramping-up overseas coal exports at a heavy price. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

AP (July 27, 2014) A live-streaming webcam catches loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest in the Florida Keys. (July 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Trees Could Save More Than 850 Lives Each Year

Trees Could Save More Than 850 Lives Each Year

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A national study conducted by the USDA Forest Service found that trees collectively save more than 850 lives on an annual basis. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins