Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

Mercury not so bad for Wandering Abatrosses?

Paco Bustamante (Littoral Environnement et Sociétés, Université de la Rochelle, France) and colleagues have published in the journal Environmental Research on mercury levels in Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans.

The paper’s abstract follows

“Hg can affect physiology of seabirds and ultimately their demography, particularly if they are top consumers.  In the present study, body feathers of >200 wandering albatrosses from Possession Island in the Crozet archipelago were used to explore the potential demographic effects of the long-term exposure to Hg on an apex predator.  Variations of Hg with sex, age class, foraging habitat (inferred from δ13C values), and feeding habits (inferred from δ15N values) were examined as well as the influence of Hg on current breeding output, long-term fecundity and survival.  Wandering albatrosses displayed among the highest Hg feather concentrations reported for seabirds, ranging from 5.9 to 95 µg g−1, as a consequence of their high trophic position (δ15N values).  These concentrations fall within the same range of those of other wandering albatross populations from subantarctic sites, suggesting that this species has similar exposure to Hg all around the Southern Ocean.  In both immature and adult albatrosses, females had higher Hg concentrations than males (28 vs. 20 µg g−1dw on average, respectively), probably as a consequence of females foraging at lower latitudes than males (δ13C values).  Hg concentrations were higher in immature than in adult birds, and they remained fairly constant across a wide range of ages in adults.  Such high levels in immature individuals question (i) the frequency of moult in young birds, (ii) the efficiency of Hg detoxification processes in immatures compared to adults, and (iii) importantly the potential detrimental effects of Hg in early life.  Despite very high Hg concentrations in their feathers, neither effects on adults' breeding probability, hatching failure and fledgling failure, nor on adults' survival rate were detected, suggesting that long-term bioaccumulated Hg was not under a chemical form leading to deleterious effects on reproductive parameters in adult individuals.”


Wandering Albatross incubating, photograph by Linda Clokie


Bustamante, P., Carravieri, A., Goutte, A., Barbraud, C., Delord, K., Chastel, O., Weimerskirch, H. & Cherel, Y. 2016.  High feather mercury concentrations in the wandering albatross are related to sex, breeding status and trophic ecology with no demographic consequences.  Environmental Research 144A: 1-10.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 26 December 2015