Mercury in Forest Songbirds Project
The Mercury in Forest Songbirds Project is the result of many years of collaborations both within and outside of BRI. We have worked to build a dataset that illustrates the extent of mercury contamination in forest songbirds throughout the country. Previous mercury investigations have focused mainly on aquatic-foraging species (e.g., loons and eagles), but we have discovered that songbirds who feed primarily on invertebrates (especially spiders) often accumulate mercury levels similar to those of their aquatic-feeding counterparts.
We have identified four goals for this project, which focus on building our knowledge base from the most foundational research (i.e., drivers of variation in mercury bioaccumulation in songbirds) to more applied (i.e., effects of timber harvest and climate change on mercury cycling). In all of our investigations, we strive to produce peer-reviewed manuscripts to share our information with other scientists, but also outreach materials that help the public understand the importance of our research.
Focus 1. Songbird Mercury Exposure - What is the extent of mercury exposure in forest songbirds and what factors drive differences in mercury bioaccumulation?
- Hidden Risk: Mercury in Terrestrial Ecosystems of the Northeast
- Riverine Mercury Footprint Study
- Northeast Songbird Spatial Model – using the data collected from 11 years of opportunistic sampling, what conclusions can be made about spatial trends in mercury across the Northeast?
Focus 2. Songbird Mercury Effects - What effect does mercury have on songbirds? We investigate changes caused by mercury contamination ranging from reduced nesting success to compromised immune function.
- Carolina Wren Nest Success Mercury Study
- Effects on behavior, brain neurochemistry and immune competence (in collaboration with the Institute for Integrative Bird Behavior Studies at the College of William and Mary)
Focus 3. Mercury and Forest Management Practices - Do varying forest management practices affect mercury release and subsequent uptake by songbirds in forested river systems?
Focus 4. Mercury and Climate change - How will climate change have an effect on mercury cycling in forested wetlands?
- Mercury pollution in an uncertain climate future: using songbirds as bioindicators