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Mercury exposure in sedentary and migratory Charadrius plovers distributed widely across China


Mercury pollution is a global problem and of particular concern in high emissions areas, such as China. We studied the migratory Kentish Plover, Charadrius alexandrinus, which breeds in coastal northern/central China and the inland Qinghai Lake, and the White-faced Plover C. dealbatus, a year-round resident of coastal southern China. We measured total mercury (THg) concentrations in feather and blood samples of breeding females. We expected low levels at the remote Qinghai Lake, but we found instead that feather THg concentrations were highest there (3.89 ± 1.53 [SD] μg/g DW [n = 34]; compared to 1.29 ± 0.61 μg/g of Kentish Plover elsewhere [n = 35] and 2.08 ± 1.45 μg/g for White-faced Plover [n = 56]), a result is consistent over 2 years. When including only coastal populations in the analysis, there were no differences in THg concentrations between the two species, although White-faced Plover had more variation. Feather THg concentrations for the coastal populations are similar to other studies on plovers and sandpipers globally, with most birds under the threshold of adverse effects (3 μg/g, an estimate that itself may be too low). Nevertheless, the Qinghai Kentish Plover population has mean feather concentrations above this threshold, indicating high exposure during the nonbreeding season, and some individuals have extreme values (e.g., a bird with a blood level of 7.63 μg/g DW from Zhanjiang, south China), so further research and monitoring are needed.

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We are grateful for the approval of the field samples from the appropriate authorities. Special thanks to Shaochong Peng for preparing sketches of plovers in Fig. 1 and also Halimubieke Naerhulan for sharing his unpublished data of nesting success of Kentish Plover at Qinghai Lake and for his comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. We thank a total of five anonymous reviewers for their criticisms which substantially improved subsequent drafts of the manuscript. Fieldwork for this study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China [NNSFC] (grants 31301875 and 31572251) to YL, and NNSFC (grant 31600297) to PQ. Additional field work was supported by the Special Talents Recruitment Program of Guangxi University to EG. Laboratory work for this study was supported by NNSFC (grant 41301557) and “Chen Guang” project (grant 14CG17) of Shanghai Municipal Education Commission and Shanghai Education Development Foundation to RW. TPS was supported by a Guangxi Postdoctoral Grant during write-up.

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Correspondence to Rui Wang or Yang Liu.

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This study did not involve endangered or protected species of the People’s Republic of China. The sampling protocol of our study was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Ethical Committee of Animal Experimentation of Sun Yat-sen University (2005DKA21403-JK). We strictly complied with the ethical conditions of the Chinese Animal Welfare Act (20090606). Permission from the respective authorities was supervised by Beijing Normal University for Kentish Plover study locations and by Sun Yat-sen University for White-faced Plover locations.

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Su, T., Lin, X., Huang, Q. et al. Mercury exposure in sedentary and migratory Charadrius plovers distributed widely across China. Environ Sci Pollut Res 27, 4236–4245 (2020).

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  • Bioaccumulation
  • China
  • Kentish plover
  • Mercury concentration
  • Shorebirds
  • Stable isotopes
  • White-faced plover