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In Situ Behavioral Response of Common Loons Associated with Elevated Mercury (Hg) Exposure

Author(s): Joseph J. Nocera | Philip D. Taylor

Journal: Ecology and Society
ISSN 1708-3087

Volume: 2;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 10;
Date: 1998;
Original page

Keywords: behavioral toxicology | common loon behavior | Gavia immer | Kejimkujik National Park | Nova Scotia | Canada | mercury | neurotoxicity | southwestern New Brunswick | sub-lethal exposure | time-activity budgets.

Common Loons (Gavia immer) in Nova Scotia, Canada have the highest blood mercury (Hg) concentrations of any loon population in North America. Previous studies have shown that exposure to varying levels of Hg in prey is associated with changes in pre-nesting adult behavior. We report here the first association of sublethal blood Hg contamination with changes in behavior of Common Loon young. As Hg levels in their blood rise, the amount of time that chicks spend brooding (by back-riding) decreases (P = 0.004) and time spent preening increases (P = 0.003). The sum increase in energy expenditure is not being compensated for with expected increases in feeding rates or begging. We suggest that such altered time-activity budgets may disrupt the energetic balance of young. Our results show that variation in time spent back-riding is associated with changes in fledging rates. Adult behavior did not significantly vary with Hg, but results are suggestive that an association may exist. We also show that monitoring the time-activity budgets of very young chicks can serve to indicate the effects Hg concentrations in their blood. We confirm the hypothesis that loons and other upper trophic level predators could be at risk from elevated levels of bioavailable Hg. This may help to explain the chronically low productivity of such contaminated sites as Kejimkujik and allow for more focused management initiatives.
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