Mercury (Hg), a neurotoxic pollutant, can be transported long distances through the atmosphere and deposited in remote areas, threatening aquatic wildlife through methylation and bioaccumulation. Over the last two decades, air quality management has resulted in decreases in Hg emissions from waste incinerators and coal-fired power plants across North America. The common loon (Gavia immer) is an apex predator of the aquatic food web. Long-term monitoring of Hg in loons can help track biological recovery in response to the declines in atmospheric Hg that have been documented in the northeastern USA. To assess spatial patterns and temporal trends in Hg exposure of the common loon in the Adirondack Park of New York State, we analyzed Hg concentrations in loon blood and egg samples from 116 lakes between 1998 and 2016. We found spatially variable Hg concentrations in adult loon blood and feathers across the Park. Loon Hg concentrations (converted to female loon units) increased 5.7% yr−1 from 1998 to 2010 (p = 0.04), and then stabilized at 1.70 mg kg−1 from 2010 to 2016 (p = 0.91), based on 760 observations. Concentrations of Hg in juvenile loons also increased in the early part of the record, stabilizing 2 years before Hg concentrations stabilized in adults. For 52 individual lakes with samples from at least 4 different years, loon Hg increased in 34 lakes and decreased in 18 lakes. Overall, we found a delayed recovery of Hg concentrations in loons, despite recent declines in atmospheric Hg.
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We greatly appreciate the many hours the Adirondack field staff have devoted each summer to capturing, color-banding, and sampling loons. The Adirondack Watershed Institute of Paul Smiths College and the Adirondack Ecological Center of SUNY ESF generously provided students annually to assist with monitoring loons on some of our study lakes. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Zoological Health Program, and Calvin College have provided in-kind support, staff, and equipment for the loon capture and sampling fieldwork each year.
Financial support was provided by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the Wildlife Conservation Society, The Wild Center, the Raquette River Advisory Council, and numerous private foundations and donors.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted.
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Schoch, N., Yang, Y., Yanai, R.D. et al. Spatial patterns and temporal trends in mercury concentrations in common loons (Gavia immer) from 1998 to 2016 in New York’s Adirondack Park: has this top predator benefitted from mercury emission controls?. Ecotoxicology 29, 1774–1785 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10646-019-02119-w
- Common loon
- Adirondack Park
- Spatial pattern
- Temporal trends
- New York