Organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, metals, and trace elements in waterbird eggs, Salton Sea, California, 2004

  • Charles J. Henny
  • Thomas W. Anderson
  • John J. Crayon
Conference paper
Part of the Developments in Hydrobiology book series (DIHY, volume 201)


The Salton Sea is a highly eutrophic, hypersaline terminal lake that receives inflows primarily from agricultural drainages in the Imperial and Coachella valleys. Impending reductions in water inflow at Salton Sea may concentrate existing contaminants which have been a concern for many years, and result in higher exposure to birds. Thus, waterbird eggs were collected and analyzed in 2004 and compared with residue concentrations from earlier years; these data provide a base for future comparisons. Eggs from four waterbird species (black-crowned night-heron [Nycticorax nycticorax], great egret [Ardea alba], black-necked stilt [Himantopus mexicanus], and American avocet [Recurvirostra Americana]) were collected. Eggs were analyzed for organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals, and trace elements, with current results compared to those reported for eggs collected from the same species and others during 1985–1993. The two contaminants of primary concern were p,p′-DDE (DDE) and selenium. DDE concentrations in night-heron and great egret eggs collected from the northwest corner of Salton Sea (Whitewater River delta) decreased 91 and 95%, respectively, by 2004, with a concomitant increase in eggshell thickness for both species. Decreases in bird egg DDE levels paralleled those in tissues of tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus × O. urolepis), an important prey species for herons and egrets. Despite most nests of night-herons and great egrets failing in 2004 due to predation, predicted reproductive effects based on DDE concentrations in eggs were low or negligible for these species. The 2004 DDE findings were in dramatic contrast to those in the past decade, and included an 81% decrease in black-necked stilt eggs, although concentrations were lower historically than those reported in night-herons and egrets. Selenium concentrations in black-necked stilt eggs from the southeast corner of Salton Sea (Davis Road) were similar in 1993 and 2004, with 4.5–7.6% of the clutches estimated to be selenium impaired during both time periods. Because of present selenium concentrations and future reduced water inflow, the stilt population is of special concern. Between 1992 and 1993 and 2004 selenium in night-heron and great egret eggs from the Whitewater River delta at the north end of the Sea decreased by 81 and 55%, respectively. None of the night-heron or egret eggs collected in 2004 contained selenium concentrations above the lowest reported effect concentration (6.0 μg/g dw). Reasons for selenium decreases in night-heron and egret eggs are unknown. Other contaminants evaluated in 2004 were all below known effect concentrations. However, in spite of generally low contaminant levels in 2004, the nesting populations of night-herons and great egrets at Salton Sea were greatly reduced from earlier years and snowy egrets (Egretta thula) were not found nesting. Other factors that include predation, reduced water level, diminished roost and nest sites, increased salinity, eutrophication, and reduced fish populations can certainly influence avian populations. Future monitoring, to validate predicted responses by birds, other organisms, and contaminant loadings associated with reduced water inflows, together with adaptive management should be the operational framework at the Salton Sea.


Salton Sea Black-crowned night-heron Great egret Black-necked stilt American avocet DDE Selenium 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles J. Henny
    • 1
  • Thomas W. Anderson
    • 2
  • John J. Crayon
    • 3
  1. 1.Forest & Rangeland Ecosystem Science CenterU.S. Geological SurveyCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.Salton Sea AuthoritySonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife RefugeCalipatriaUSA
  3. 3.California Department of Fish & GameBermuda DunesUSA

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