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Scientists find mercury threatens next generation of loons
Date:3/4/2008

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

The results of the 18-year study on loonsa species symbolic of northern lakes and wildernessappear 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 mercuryabout 16 percent of the adult population in the study areawere 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 c
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Contact: John Delaney
jdelaney@wcs.org
718-220-3275
Wildlife Conservation Society
Source:Eurekalert  

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