Inter-annual variation in winter distribution impacts individual seabird contamination with mercury

Céline Albert* (Corresponding Author), Vegard Sandøy Bråthen, Sébastien Descamps, Tycho Anker-Nilssen, Alexander Cherenkov, Signe Christensen Dalsgaard, Jóhannis Danielsen, Kjell Einar Erikstad, Maria Gavrilo , Sveinn Are Hanssen, Hálfdán Helgi Helgason, Jón Einar Jónsson, Yann Kolbeinsson, Yuri Krasnov, Magdalene Langset, Erlend Lorentzen, Bergur Olsen, Tone Kristin Reiertsen, Hallvard Strøm, Geir Helge Systad Grigori Tertitsk, Paul Thompson, Thorkell Lindberg Thórarinsson, Paco Bustamante, Borge Moe, Jérôme Fort

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
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Migratory seabirds are exposed to various pollutants throughout their annual cycle. Among them, mercury (Hg) is of particular concern given large impacts on animals’ health. Recent studies suggest that winter is a critical period for seabirds when contamination by Hg can be higher than other times of year. However, individuals within and between species can have different migration strategies that could affect their exposure. Here, we combined multi-year individual tracking data and Hg measurements from six Arctic seabird species. We investigated whether inter-annual variations in individual winter contamination with Hg was related to their fidelity to a wintering site over years. First, our results show that Hg concentrations above the toxicity threshold (i.e., 5 µg g -1 dw in feathers) were observed in variable proportions according to species (from 2% of northern fulmars to 37% of Brünnich’s guillemots). Second, individuals with high fidelity to a wintering ground had more similar Hg concentrations among years compared to individuals with low fidelity, suggesting an effect of their migratory strategy on Hg contamination. Further, we found that the directional change in wintering areas among years influenced their Hg contamination, highlighting an additional effect of seabirds’ winter distribution. More specifically, individuals migrating to the northwest direction of a previous wintering ground tended to be more contaminated compared those moving to eastern directions. These results confirm spatial differences in Hg concentration throughout the North Atlantic-Arctic and an east-west gradient increase in Hg concentrations. Verifying this trend will require more large-scale ecotoxicological studies at smaller spatial resolution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-254
Number of pages12
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Early online date9 Sep 2021
Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2021


  • Bio-logging
  • feathers
  • Migration
  • North-Atlantic Arctic
  • pollutant


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