Heavy metals and metalloid levels in the tissues of yellow-legged gulls (Larus michahellis) from Spain: sex, age, and geographical location differences

Vizuete, J., Hernández-Moreno, D., López-Beceiro, A., Fidalgo, L.E., Soler, F., Pérez-López, M. and Míguez-Santiyán, M.P., 2022. Heavy metals and metalloid levels in the tissues of yellow-legged gulls (Larus michahellis) from Spain: sex, age, and geographical location differences. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 29(36), pp.54292-54308.

Mercury (Hg), cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), selenium (Se), and arsenic (As) were measured in liver, kidney, and feathers of adult, juvenile, and chick seagulls (Larus michahellis) collected from the northwest of Spain. Age, sex, and the geographical location of samples were considered variables that can influence metal bioaccumulation, for which concentrations were determined by means of ICP-MS. The mean concentrations (dry weight) found in seagulls were 7.01 ± 0.37 mg Hg/kg, 22.82 ± 2.83 mg Cd/kg, 7.36 ± 1.36 mg Pb/kg, 18.64 ± 0.63 mg Se/kg, and 10.64 ± 0.59 mg As/kg. Regarding the different factors analyzed, Hg was the only metal showing sex-related differences, being significantly higher (p < 0.05) the concentrations found in feathers of males (1.26 ± 0.12 mg/kg) than those in females (0.99 ± 0.11 mg/kg). A highly significant (p < 0.01) increase in levels of some metals was found in liver related to the increase of age: Hg (adults (A) 3.33 ± 0.22 mg/kg vs chicks (C) 1.76 ± 0.28 mg/kg), Cd (A 4.74 ± 0.62 mg/kg vs C 1.79 ± 0.2), Pb (A 0.65 ± 0.12 mg/kg vs juveniles 0.4 ± 0.11 mg/kg), and Se (A 7.56 ± 0.43 mg/kg vs C 5.24 ± 0.53 mg/kg). Positive correlations between Cd-Hg and Se–Hg were found in liver (p < 0.001), kidney (p < 0.001), and feathers (p < 0.05 and p < 0.001, respectively). The associations found may reflect antagonistic interactions between Se and Cd on Hg toxicity. The results suggest that L. michahellis can reveal local contamination around the foraging and breeding sites and can be a very useful monitoring instrument for assessing heavy metal contamination and sentinel species of environmental health..


Global deposition of potentially toxic metals via faecal material in seabird colonies

De La Peña-Lastra, S., Pérez-Alberti, A., Ferreira, T.O., Huerta-Díaz, M.Á. and Otero, X.L., 2022. Global deposition of potentially toxic metals via faecal material in seabird colonies. Scientific Reports, 12, p.22392.

Seabirds are known to play an important role in the geochemical cycling of macronutrients; however, their role in cycling elements of environmental interest has not been investigated. Guano is an important source of marine-derived nutrients and trace metals in seabird nesting areas, but most of the available information on this topic is derived from local studies. In the present study, we used a bioenergetic model to estimate the amounts of cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg) and lead (Pb) that are deposited via faecal material in seabird colonies worldwide. The findings showed that the seabirds excreted 39.3 Mg (Mg = metric ton or 1000 kg) of Cd, 35.7 Mg of Hg and 27.2 Mg of Pb annually. These amounts are of the same order of magnitude as those reported for other fluxes considered in the geochemical cycling of these elements (e.g. sea-salt spray, cement production, soil loss to oceans). Most of the deposition occurs in circumpolar zones in both hemispheres and, interestingly, high proportions of the metals in the excrements occur in geochemically labile forms, which can be easily leached into coastal waters and assimilated by marine organisms.


Metal content in the liver, kidney, and feathers of Northern gannets, Morus bassanus, sampled on the Spanish coast

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.

Influence of trophic ecology and spatial variation on the isotopic fingerprints of 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.