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Biological archives reveal contrasting patterns in trace element concentrations in pelagic seabird feathers over more than a centuryContamination of diverse environments and wild species by some contaminants is projected to continue and increase in coming decades. In the marine environment, large volumes of data to assess how concentrations have changed over time can be gathered from indicator species such as seabirds, including through sampling feathers from archival collections and museums. As apex predators, Flesh-footed Shearwaters (Ardenna carneipes) are subject to high concentrations of bioaccumulative and biomagnifying contaminants, and reflect the health of their local marine environment. We analysed Flesh-footed Shearwater feathers from Australia from museum specimens and live birds collected between 1900 and 2011 and assessed temporal trends in three trace elements of toxicological concern: cadmium, mercury, and lead. Concentrations of cadmium increased by 1.5% per year (95% CI: +0.6, +3.0), while mercury was unchanged through the time series (−0.3% per year; 05% CI: -2.1, +1.5), and lead decreased markedly (−2.1% per year, 95% CI: -3.2, −1.0). A reduction in birds’ trophic position through the 20th century, and decreased atmospheric emissions were the likely driving factors for mercury and lead, respectively. By combining archival material from museum specimens with contemporary samples, we have been able to further elucidate the potential threats posed to these apex predators by metal contamination.
Trace element concentrations in feathers of seven petrels (Pterodroma spp.)Gadfly petrels (Pterodroma spp.) are one of the most threatened and poorly studied seabird groups, and as marine predators, are exposed to biomagnified and bioaccumulated chemical pollutants from their prey.We quantified trace element concentrations in breast feathers of seven petrel species that breed in the southern hemisphere to quantify current concentrations. Selenium (Se) concentrations were significantly lower in chicks than adults; this was not observed for zinc (Zn) or lead (Pb). Overall, the species examined here exhibited similar concentrations of Se, with Pb and Zn concentrations more variable among species. The mean Se concentration in adult birds exceeded those thought to be potentially deleterious, and three species had concentrations that were above the assumed threshold for Pb toxicity. Further investigation of potentially toxic trace elements in gadfly petrels is warranted.