MEPS 244:257-264 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps244257

Metals and selenium as bioindicators of geographic and trophic segregation in giant petrels Macronectes spp.

Jacob González-Solís1,2,*, Carola Sanpera1, Xavier Ruiz1

1Dept Biologia Animal (Vertebrats), Universitat de Barcelona, Av. Diagonal 645, Barcelona 08028, Spain
2British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, United Kingdom
*Present address: Dept Biologia Animal (Vertebrats), Universitat de Barcelona, Av. Diagonal 645, Barcelona 08028, Spain. Email:

ABSTRACT: We analysed concentrations of cadmium, lead, mercury and selenium in blood from males and females of the 2 sibling species of giant petrels, the northern Macronectes halli and the southern M. giganteus, breeding sympatrically at Bird Island (South Georgia, Antarctica). Blood samples were collected in 1998 during the incubation period, from 5 November to 10 December. Between species, cadmium and lead concentrations were significantly higher for northern than for southern giant petrels, which probably resulted from northern giant petrels wintering in more polluted areas (mainly on the Patagonian Shelf and Falkland Islands) compared to southern giant petrels (wintering mainly around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands). Between sexes, cadmium concentrations were significantly higher for females than for males in both species, corresponding to the more pelagic habits of females compared to the more scavenging habits of males. Lead and cadmium concentrations in circulating blood decreased significantly over the incubation period, suggesting that when breeding at Bird Island, exposure to the source of pollution had ended, and these metals had been cleared from the blood and excreted, or rapidly transferred to other tissues. Association of lead and cadmium with a common source of pollution was further corroborated by a significant positive correlation between the levels of the 2 elements found. Mercury levels were similar between the species, but showed an opposite trend between sexes, with males showing higher levels than females in northern giant petrels, and the opposite was true in southern giant petrels, with no changes throughout incubation. Selenium levels were similar between sexes, but significantly greater for northern than for southern giant petrels. Moreover, there was a significant increase in the selenium levels over the incubation period in northern giant petrels. Age of adult birds did not affect metal concentrations. Coefficients of variation of metal levels were consistently lower for northern than for southern giant petrels, particularly for mercury, suggesting that the former species is more dietary specialised than the latter. Contaminant analyses, when combined with accurate information on seabird movements, obtained through geolocation or satellite tracking, help us to understand geographic variation of pollution in the marine environment.


KEY WORDS: Environmental contaminants · Chemicals · Sexual dimorphism · Marine pollution · Cadmium · Lead · Mercury


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