MEPS 178:295-305 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/meps178295

Influence of phylogeny, diet, moult schedule and sex on heavy metal concentrations in New Zealand Procellariiformes

Fiona M. Stewart1,*, Richard A. Phillips2,**, J. Alexander Bartle3, John Craig1, David Shooter1

1School of Environmental and Marine Science, Tamaki campus, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand
2Dept of Biological Sciences, South Road, University of Durham, Durham DH1 3LE, United Kingdom
3Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, PO Box 467, Wellington, New Zealand
*Present address: Dept of Biological Sciences, South Road, University of Durham, Durham DH1 3LE, United Kingdom
**Addressee for correspondence. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: Mercury, cadmium, zinc and copper concentrations were analysed in the liver and kidney tissues of 14 species of albatross and petrel. These birds were obtained as by-catch of the long-line tuna fishing industry in New Zealand waters, and provided a unique opportunity to compare heavy metal accumulation in a group of closely related species. Mercury levels in the liver of the wandering and royal albatrosses were among the highest recorded for free-living birds. In multiple regression analyses, much of the inter-specific variation in cadmium and mercury levels was related to the importance of Crustacea in the diet, to phylogeny, or to the duration of the moult cycle. Species in which crustacea constituted >33% of the diet had significantly lower cadmium concentrations in liver tissues, and mercury concentrations in both liver and kidney tissues, than those in which birds consumed mainly or entirely squid and fish. This accords reasonably well with information on relative mercury and cadmium content of prey species. After accounting for dietary variation, Procellariidae (petrels, shearwaters and prions) and Hydrobatidae (storm petrels) still exhibited higher cadmium concentrations in the liver than Diomedeidae (albatrosses). In addition, albatrosses which took more than a year to moult accumulated higher mercury concentrations in their livers, probably because of a restricted ability to excrete mercury into growing feathers.


KEY WORDS: Diet · Moult · Seabirds · Pollution · Petrel · Albatross


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