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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 489:245-261 (2013)  -  DOI:

Wintering eiders acquire exceptional Se and Cd burdens in the Bering Sea: physiological and oceanographic factors

James R. Lovvorn1,*, Merl F. Raisbeck2, Lee W. Cooper3, Gregory A. Cutter4, Micah W. Miller1,5, Marjorie L. Brooks1, Jacqueline M. Grebmeier3, Angela C. Matz5, Cortney M. Schaefer6

1Department of Zoology and Center for Ecology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois 62901, USA
2Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071, USA
3Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Solomons, Maryland 20688, USA
4Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia 23529, USA
5US Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Contaminants Program, 101 12th Avenue, Fairbanks, Alaska 99701, USA
6Department of Zoology and Physiology, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071, USA

ABSTRACT: During late winter (March) in the Bering Sea, levels of Se in livers and Cd in kidneys of spectacled eiders Somateria fischeri were exceptionally high (up to 489 and 312 µg g-1 dry mass, respectively). Comparison of organ and blood samples during late winter, early spring migration, and breeding suggests that the eiders’ high Se and Cd burdens were accumulated at sea, with highest exposure during winter. High exposure may have resulted from high metabolic demands and food intake, as well as concentrations in food. In the eiders’ remote wintering area, their bivalve prey contained comparable Se levels and much higher Cd levels than in industrialized areas. Patterns of chlorophyll a in water and sediments indicated that phytoplankton detritus settling over a large area was advected into a persistent regional eddy, where benthic prey densities were higher than elsewhere and most eider foraging occurred. Se and Cd assimilated or adsorbed by bloom materials apparently also accumulated in the eddy, and were incorporated into the bivalve prey of eiders. Atmospheric deposition of dust-borne trace elements from Asia, which peaks during the ice-edge phytoplankton bloom from March to May, may augment processes that concentrate Se and Cd in eider prey. Compared with freshwater birds, some sea ducks (Mergini) accumulate much higher concentrations of trace elements, even with the same levels in food, with no apparent ill effects. Nevertheless, the absolute and relative burdens of different elements in sea ducks vary greatly among areas. Our results suggest these patterns can result from (1) exceptional accumulation and tolerance of trace elements when exposure is elevated by high food intake or levels in food, and (2) atmospheric and oceanographic processes that concentrate trace elements in local benthic food webs.

KEY WORDS: Spectacled eider · Sea ducks · Body condition · Selenium · Cadmium · Trace elements in food webs · Trace metals · Bedload transport · Aerial deposition · Atmospheric transport

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Cite this article as: Lovvorn JR, Raisbeck MF, Cooper LW, Cutter GA and others (2013) Wintering eiders acquire exceptional Se and Cd burdens in the Bering Sea: physiological and oceanographic factors. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 489:245-261.

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