Feather mercury levels in seabirds at South Georgia: influence of trophic position, sex and age

We studied the mercury contamination of 13 species of seabirds breeding on Bird Island, South Georgia, in 1998. Total mercury concentrations in body feather samples of birds caught at their breeding colonies were determined. Among the species, grey-headed albatross (8933 ng g(-1)) and southern giant petrel (7774 ng g(-1)) showed the highest, and gentoo penguin (948 ng g(-1)) the lowest body feather mercury concentrations. Mercury levels were negatively correlated with the proportion of crustaceans (mainly krill) in the species' diets, suggesting that the trophic level is the most important factor in explaining the variation of mercury concentrations in Antarctic seabirds. In 4 species studied for age effects among adult birds (grey-headed and black-browed albatross, northern and southern giant petrel), no age-dependent variation in mercury levels was found. Sex differences were also assessed: female gentoo penguins had lower mercury levels than males, which may be related to the elimination of part of the mercury body burden by females into eggs. In contrast, northern giant petrel males had lower levels than females, which may be related to a higher consumption by males of carrion from Antarctic fur seals. In grey-headed albatrosses, mercury levels were 113 % higher than in 1989, when this species was investigated at the same site, indicating a possible increase in mercury pollution of the Southern Ocean during the last decade.


Publication status:
Authors: Becker, Peter H., González-Solís, Jacob, Behrends, Brigitte, Croxall, John

1 January, 2002
Marine Ecology Progress Series / 243
Link to published article: