The value of birds as bioindicators for monitoring the environmental inorganic elements has been globally recognized. In this context, due to its well-known ecology and population stability, the Northern gannet (Morus bassanus) could be particularly useful. Dead Northern gannets (n = 30) were collected and samples from the liver, kidney, and feathers were taken, dried, mineralized, and finally analyzed via ICP-MS. Metals and metalloids, namely As, Cd, Hg, Pb, and Zn, associated with environmental pollution and toxicity on living organisms, were evaluated. The mean highest concentrations of As, Hg, and Zn were found in the liver (0.916, 7.026, and 89.81 mg/kg dry weight, respectively). For Cd, the kidney showed the highest mean concentration (17.51 mg/kg dry weight), whereas for Pb, this value corresponded to the feathers (0.399 mg/kg dry weight). Significant differences were found between the age classes in terms of contaminant concentrations, with the adults exhibiting higher metal levels. This difference was significantly relevant for Pb and Hg, where the effect of age was observed for all the considered tissues. When considering the effect of gender, no significant differences were observed, in agreement with similar studies performed in other geographical regions. Finally, positive correlations between the concentrations of Hg and Pb in the feathers and in the liver (r = 0.688, p < 0.001 and r = 0.566, p < 0.001, respectively) were observed, as well as between the feather and kidney concentrations (r = 0.685, p < 0.001) indicating the possibility to use feathers, a non-invasive biomonitoring tissue, for better understanding Hg and Pb exposure in seabirds.
Moreno, R., Jover, L., Velando, A., Munilla, I. & Sanpera, C. Influence of trophic ecology and spatial variation on the isotopic fingerprints of seabirds. Marine Ecology Progress Series 442, 229–239 (2011).
Notwithstanding the potential applications of stable isotopes in feeding and migration studies, the simultaneous influence of diet, foraging behavior and spatial variation on the stable isotope signatures of seabirds is poorly understood. Many studies have interpreted their isotopic signatures without considering local baseline and prey isotopic signatures; consequently, the main factors causing isotopic differences between populations have frequently not been discerned. To examine the influence of these factors on the stable isotopic signatures of seabirds, we analyzed the δ15N, δ13C, δ34S and Hg concentrations of chick feathers of the European shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis, its main fish prey and baseline indicator organisms (mussels), all sampled in 2 sectors of northwest coastal Spain with marked differences in primary productivity. Our results show that the δ15N signature and Hg concentration of shags are influenced by both feeding ecology and spatial variation. The δ13C and δ34S signatures, however, mainly related to spatial differences and can thus be used as reliable geographic markers. Our findings also highlight the importance of assessing spatio-temporal variation in baseline isotopic signatures and their progressive
integration through the food web. Omission of potential prey and baseline values, or application of only a single baseline to the food webs of the 2 sectors, assuming isotopic homogeneity because of geographical proximity, would have led to significantly distorted interpretations of feeding ecology of shag chicks.