High Mercury Levels Pose Another Setback for Arctic Birds

(Katie Valentine, July 22, 2016)
Gone unchecked, the element can lead to sickness, sterility, or even death in breeding shorebirds.

Life in the Arctic has its challenges. The shorebirds that breed there each summer have to complete some of the longest migrations on record. Once they arrive, they’re forced to deal with harsh living and foraging conditions—made worse by the ill effects of a changing climate.

Now scientists are adding another hardship to the list: mercury poisoning. A new study by researchers at McGill University and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that Arctic shorebirds are exhibiting high levels of mercury, which could be dangerous for their population numbers. “The concentrations in some were much higher than we would have ever expected for small birds that are foraging on insects,” says Marie Perkins, a PhD candidate at McGill and lead author of the study.

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