Trends of Contaminants and Effects in Bald Eagles of the Great Lakes Basin

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Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) numbers in North America have increased since the ban of DDT and other organochlorine compounds in the 1970s. The decrease in the environmental concentrations of p, p′-DDE has lead to the lessening of egg-shell thinning and has been a major reason for the current resurgence of bald eagle populations in temperate North America, however, this recovery has not been uniform. Eagles nesting along the shorelines and islands of the Great Lakes have continued to experience impaired productivity. In order to examine some of the reasons for the current recovery of bald eagles in the Great Lakes Basin and the potential use of eagles as a bioindicator species of Great Lakes water quality, we analyzed trends in reproductive activity, concentrations of PCBs and p, p′-DDE in unhatched eggs, and rates of developmental deformities. Numbers of occupied nests, fledged young, and yearly productivity rates have increased across the basin. No trends have been observed in changes in the concentrations of p, p′-DDE nor Total PCBs in unhatched eggs. An increasing rate in the incidence of developmental deformities in nestlings has been observed in Michigan. The recovery of the bald eagle population along the Great Lakes is most likely due to immigration of relatively uncontaminated adults from Interior regions.

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