The Impact of Mercury on Songbirds is Focus of Special Issue of Ecotoxicology
The scope and intensity of mercury contamination in North American songbirds is more widespread than previously reported. Fifteen new scientific papers have recently been published in a special issue of the journal Ecotoxicology. Studies find that at least 58 songbird species show demonstrated effects from mercury. The journal’s October issue entitled, The Impact of Mercury on North American Songbirds: Effects, Trends, and Predictive Factors, presents results of field, laboratory, and museum studies—from Alaska to Maine to Puerto Rico.
The Ecotoxicology special issue (Vol. 29, Issue 8, October 2020) is now online and can be found here.
Migratory songbird species have shown some of the largest declines across the animal kingdom. Reasons for these declines are difficult to pinpoint. Complexities of their annual cycle—particularly those related to migration and the use of multiple habitats across continents—make it difficult to determine where a population could be experiencing problems such as habitat loss or shortage of food supplies. Basic information about migratory processes and patterns, combined with songbird natural history, is critical to our understanding of how environmental changes impact these species.
To inform policy efforts and advance public understanding, a group of 61 scientists collaborated on producing 15 papers that describe the impacts of mercury on songbirds across the United States and Canada (Cristol and Evers 2020). This publication, The Impact of Mercury on North American Songbirds, highlights the major findings of those studies and collaborative effort.
The 15 scientific papers representing laboratory and field studies are now published in a special issue of the journal Ecotoxicology (October 2020). The papers reflect five general categories of research on mercury in songbirds: (1) effects on health and physiology; (2) temporal trends; (3) landscape variations; (4) bioindicators; and (5) migration.
Wyoming's upper Hoback River Vallley offers a unique opportunity for BRI researchers to study local fauna. This work provides an integrated wildlife research and conservation plan for the valley, including habitat enhancement to improve the use of key wildlife species and subsequent viewing opportunities for visitors.
In 2011, BRI began monitoring efforts at the River Point Conservation Area in Falmouth, Maine, with an emphasis on tracking bird populations. Migration monitoring occurs in both spring and fall. In the summer, research efforts focus on the Veery and Tree Swallow.
Below is a selection of research projects conducted at the River Point Conservation Area:
Ever since BRI biologists discovered the threats mercury can pose to songbird populations, we have stressed the need to better understand the exposure of mercury in songbirds across North America south into Central America. Efforts to determine the effects of mercury on songbird reproductive success have emphasized the Carolina Wren, which resulted in an important publication on the topic. More investigations are planned in Latin America to better understand the impacts of mercury on neotropical migrants and tropical resident birds.
Below is a selection of songbird research projects with a focus on contaminants monitoring:
The changing technology of transmitter devices for following wildlife has resulted in new abilities to track smaller birds, like songbirds. BRI is conducting movement studies using geolocator devices in both Maine and Massachusetts. More work is planned in the future.
Below is a selection of research projects with a focus on the movement and distribution of songbirds:
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