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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 676:243-254 (2021)  -  DOI:

Inter-annual variation in winter distribution affects individual seabird contamination with mercury

C. Albert1,*, V. S. Bråthen2, S. Descamps3, T. Anker-Nilssen2, A. Cherenkov4, S. Christensen-Dalsgaard2, J. Danielsen5, K. E. Erikstad6, M. Gavrilo7,8, S. A. Hanssen6, H. H. Helgason3, J. E. Jónsson9, Y. Kolbeinsson10, Y. Krasnov11, M. Langset2, E. Lorentzen3, B. Olsen5, T. K. Reiertsen6, H. Strøm3, G. H. Systad2, G. Tertitski12, P. M. Thompson13, T. L. Thórarinsson10, P. Bustamante1,14, B. Moe2,#, J. Fort1,#

1Littoral, Environnement et Sociétés (LIENSs), UMR 7266 CNRS-La Rochelle Université, 17000 La Rochelle, France
2Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), 7485 Trondheim, Norway
3Norwegian Polar Institute, FRAM Centre, 9296 Tromsø, Norway
4Lomonosov Moscow State University, Solovetskiy Branch of White Sea Biological Station, Solovetskiy, Arkhangelsk district 164409, Russia
5Faroe Marine Research Institute, 110 Tórshavn, Faroe Islands
6NINA, FRAM Centre, 9296 Tromsø, Norway
7Association Maritime Heritage, Icebreaker ‘Krassin’, The Lieutenant Schmidt emb., 23 Line, Saint-Petersburg 199106, Russia
8National Park Russian Arctic, Archangelsk 168000, Russia
9University of Iceland’s Research Center at Snæfellsnes, 340 Stykkishólmur, Iceland
10Northeast Iceland Nature Research Centre, 640 Húsavík, Iceland
11Murmansk Marine Biological Institute, Murmansk 183010, Russia
12Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow 119017, Russia
13University of Aberdeen, School of Biological Sciences, Lighthouse Field Station, Ross-shire, Cromarty IV11 8YJ, UK
14Institut Universitaire de France (IUF), 75005 Paris, France
*Corresponding author:
#These authors share equal authorship

ABSTRACT: Migratory seabirds are exposed to various pollutants throughout their annual cycle. Among them, mercury (Hg) is of particular concern given its large impact on animal health. Recent studies suggest that winter is a critical period for seabirds when contamination by Hg can be higher than at other times of year. However, individuals within and between species can have different migration strategies and winter distributions that could affect their exposure. Here, we combined multi-year individual tracking data and Hg measurements from 6 Arctic seabird species. We investigated whether inter-annual variations in individual winter contamination with Hg was related to seabird fidelity to a wintering site over years. First, our results show that Hg concentrations above the toxicity threshold (i.e. 5 µg g-1 dry weight in feathers) were observed in variable proportions according to species (from 2% of northern fulmars to 37% of Brünnich’s guillemots). Second, individuals with high fidelity to a wintering ground had more similar Hg concentrations among years compared to individuals with low fidelity, suggesting an effect of their migratory strategy on Hg contamination. Further, we found that the directional change in wintering areas among years influenced seabird Hg contamination, highlighting an additional effect of seabirds’ winter distribution. More specifically, individuals migrating to the northwest direction of a previous wintering ground tended to be more contaminated compared to those moving to eastern directions. These results confirm spatial differences in Hg concentration throughout the North Atlantic-Arctic and an east-west gradient increase in Hg concentrations. Verifying this trend will require more large-scale ecotoxicological studies at smaller spatial resolution.

KEY WORDS: Feathers · Pollutant · Migration · North Atlantic-Arctic · Biologging

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Cite this article as: Albert C, Bråthen VS, Descamps S, Anker-Nilssen T and others (2021) Inter-annual variation in winter distribution affects individual seabird contamination with mercury. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 676:243-254.

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