Spatial and sex differences in mercury contamination of skuas in the Southern Ocean
Antarctic marine ecosystems are often considered to be pristine environments, yet wildlife in the polar regions may still be exposed to high levels of environmental contaminants. Here, we measured total mercury (THg) concentrations in blood samples from adult brown skuas Stercorarius antarcticus lonnbergi (n = 82) from three breeding colonies south of the Antarctic Polar Front in the Southern Ocean (southwest Atlantic region): (i) Bahía Esperanza/Hope Bay, Antarctic Peninsula; (ii) Signy Island, South Orkney Islands; and, (iii) Bird Island, South Georgia. Blood THg concentrations increased from the Antarctic Peninsula towards the Antarctic Polar Front, such that Hg contamination was lowest at Bahía Esperanza/Hope Bay (mean ± SD, 0.95 ± 0.45 μg g−1 dw), intermediate at Signy Island (3.42 ± 2.29 μg g−1 dw) and highest at Bird Island (4.47 ± 1.10 μg g−1 dw). Blood THg concentrations also showed a weak positive correlation with δ15N values, likely reflecting the biomagnification process. Males had higher Hg burdens than females, which may reflect deposition of Hg into eggs by females or potentially differences in their trophic ecology. These data provide important insights into intraspecific variation in contamination and the geographic transfer of Hg to seabirds in the Southern Ocean.
Authors: Mills, William F. ORCID record for William F. Mills, Ibañez, Andrés E., Bustamante, Paco, Carneiro, Ana P.B., Bearhop, Stuart, Cherel, Yves, Mariano-Jelicich, Rocío, McGill, Rona A.R., Montalti, Diego, Votier, Stephen C., Phillips, Richard A.