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Offspring Hg exposure relates to parental feeding strategies in a generalist bird with strong individual foraging specialization
Santos, C.S.A.; Blondel, L.; Sotillo, A.; Müller, W.; Stienen, E.W.M.; Boeckx, P.; Soares, A.M.V.M.; Monteiro, M.S.; Loureiro, S.; de Neve, L.; Lens, L. (2017). Offspring Hg exposure relates to parental feeding strategies in a generalist bird with strong individual foraging specialization. Sci. Total Environ. 601-602: 1315-1323.
In: Science of the Total Environment. Elsevier: Amsterdam. ISSN 0048-9697; e-ISSN 1879-1026, more
Peer reviewed article  

Available in  Authors 

    Larus fuscus Linnaeus, 1758 [WoRMS]
Author keywords
    Foraging plasticity; Mercury exposure; Chick quality

Authors  Top 
  • Santos, C.S.A., more
  • Blondel, L.
  • Sotillo, A., more
  • Müller, W., more
  • Stienen, E.W.M., more
  • Boeckx, P., more
  • Soares, A.M.V.M.
  • Monteiro, M.S.
  • Loureiro, S.
  • de Neve, L., more
  • Lens, L., more

    Generalist species can potentially exploit a wide variety of resources, but at the individual level they often show a certain degree of foraging specialization. Specific foraging strategies, however, may increase exposure to environmental contaminants that can alter the cost-benefit balance of consuming particular food items. The Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) is known to opportunistically feed on a wide range of marine and terrestrial prey that differ in contaminant load, such as mercury (Hg) that strongly biomagnifies through the aquatic food web. The hypothesis tested in this study were: i) a predominant use of marine prey by females during egg-formation and by both parents during chick rearing increases the exposure to Hg during embryonic development and chick growth, and ii) this affects parental investment in clutch volume, chick growth and body condition. Total Hg burden and isotopic signatures of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) were determined for eggs, down feathers, and primary feathers of L. fuscus chicks collected at a coastal colony in Belgium. As expected, eggs and feathers of chicks from parents with a stable isotope signature that suggested a predominantly marine diet had higher levels of Hg. The use of marine resources by females during the egg-formation period positively correlated to maternal investment in egg size, though entailing the cost of increased Hg-concentrations which in turn negatively affected clutch volume. Furthermore, it is shown that the use of chick down feathers is a suitable matrix to non-lethally estimate Hg concentrations in eggs. Contrary to our expectations, no relationship between Hg exposure and chick growth or chick body condition was found, which may be due the low concentrations found. We conclude that currently Hg contamination does not constitute a risk for development and condition of L. fuscus offspring at the levels currently observed at the Belgian coast.

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