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Rebecka Brasso, Ph.D.
Rebecka in South Georgia, where she collected King Penguin feather samples for mercury analysis.

Rebecka Brasso, Ph.D.

Ornithologist, Ecotoxicologist


Over the past 10 years, Rebecka’s research has centered on the use of birds as biomonitors of mercury availability in a variety of ecosystems. Her M.S. research at The College of William and Mary (2007) investigated the effects of legacy mercury contamination on the reproductive success of tree swallows breeding along a contaminated river. This work provided some of the first documentation of the trophic transfer of aquatic mercury to terrestrial ecosystems while bringing to light the suitability of insect-eating songbirds as biomonitors. Changing hemispheres for her Ph.D. (UNC Wilmington 2014), Rebecka’s dissertation research took her to the Antarctic to use penguins as biomonitors of mercury availability in this remote ecosystem. She has subsequently published the first mercury concentrations for several species of penguins while offering some of the most comprehensive accounts of mercury availability to marine birds in Southern Hemisphere.

Upon completion of her Ph.D., Rebecka took a brief postdoctoral position at UNC Greensboro (2014-2015) studying the biogeochemistry of mercury in forest food webs. Collecting terrestrial invertebrates from upland forest ecosystems in California, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Michigan, Rebecka used stable mercury isotopes in an effort to understand the source of mercury to terrestrial ecosystem with limited aquatic influence. Her research interests have led to her involvement in a variety of projects from sampling songbirds in coastal marshes of North Carolina and Olympic National Forest to studying penguins in the Antarctic Peninsula. Now an assistant professor in the Biology Department at Southeast Missouri State University, Rebecka’s research program focuses on the use of songbirds as biomonitors of the effects of legacy lead mining in southeast Missouri’s lead belt as well as examining spatial and temporal variation in mercury cycling in wetland ecosystems of southeast Missouri.


  • Ph.D., Marine Biology, University of North Carolina, Wilmington, 2014
  • M.S., Biology, The College of William and Mary, 2007 
  • B.S., Marine Biology, University of North Carolina, Wilmington, 2004 

Expertise and Experience

  • Mercury cycling, bioaccumulation, and biomagnification (terrestrial, aquatic, and marine food webs) 
  • Quantification of trophic relationships using stable isotope analysis 
  • Songbirds as biomonitors of heavy metal contamination 
  • Tissue biomarkers for studying environmental pollutants

Research Interests

  • Transfer of aquatic mercury to adjacent terrestrial ecosystems 
  • Temporal and spatial variation in mercury availability within an individual’s home range 
  • Biomagnification of mercury at low trophic positions 
  • Impacts of environmental perturbations on the reproductive success of songbirds

Journal Articles

Biodiversity Research Institute