Using Feathers to Evaluate Adverse Effects of Metals on Northern Bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) in Texas
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Northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) have been declining across the range of the species primarily due to habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. There is increasing concern regarding effects related to elevated environmental contaminants, including pesticides and metals. Elevated concentrations of some metals are known to have adverse effects on reproduction, development, and survival in birds; however, little research has been conducted on metal exposure in wild bobwhites. We analyzed metal concentrations in the feathers of 60 bobwhites from 3 ecoregions in Texas and evaluated differences between age-class, gender, and location with the objective of determining if bobwhites in Texas are at increased risk of exposure to elevated metal concentrations. We found feather Pb concentrations above the established effect threshold of 4.0 µg/g dry weight at which sublethal and reproductive effects have been reported in birds. More than 25% (n = 16) of the samples analyzed had Pb concentrations above the effect threshold, including four that were five times above the threshold. We also observed slightly elevated feather Cd concentrations, above 0.1 µg/g dry weight, in 17% (n = 11) of the bobwhites analyzed. On average, juvenile bobwhites had higher concentrations of Ba, Co, Fe, Mn, Sr, and V compared to adults (p < 0.05). Additionally, concentrations of Al, Be, Co, Fe, Hg, Ni, Se, Sr, and Tl differed significantly between sampling locations, indicating a potential relationship between metal levels and local agricultural practices. The results of our study indicate a potential risk of sublethal effects of Pb and to a lesser extent Cd in bobwhites in Texas.
author list (cited authors)
Schmude, E., Ertl, H., Taylor, R. J., & Mora, M. A.