Metal concentrations in three species of passerine birds breeding in the Hackensack Meadowlands of New Jersey

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Abstract

The New Jersey Meadowlands is an important natural area, a diverse mosaic of wetland habitats positioned within the heavily urbanized NY City Metropolitan area and the NY/NJ Harbor. Persistent contaminants may pose threats to wildlife inhabiting these habitats, affecting reproduction, egg hatchability, nestling survivorship, and neurobehavioral development. Metals of concern in the Meadowlands include arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury. These metals were analyzed in feathers and blood of three passerine birds breeding in wetland habitats, including red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), marsh wrens (Cistothorus palustris), and tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor), as well as eggs of the first two species. These widespread species are abundant in wetland habitats across the Meadowlands District, and eat insects and other invertebrates. Lead levels were low in eggs, higher in feathers and very elevated in blood in all species compared to those that have been reported for other bird species. Lead levels were especially high in blood of marsh wren (mean of 0.8ppm) and swallow (mean of 0.94ppm, wet weight). Levels of lead in the blood for all three species sampled were higher than the negative impact threshold of 0.4ppm. Mercury levels, while below the levels considered biologically harmful, were higher in eggs (mean of 0.2, wet weight) and feathers (3.2ppm, dry weight) of marsh wren from Meadowlands than those seen in other passerines, and even some fish-eating birds. Furthermore, unhatched wren eggs had higher mercury levels (0.3ppm, wet weight) than eggs randomly selected before hatch (0.18ppm, wet weight). Blood tissue levels of mercury were low in all three species (mean of less than 0.035ppm, wet weight). Chromium levels were relatively high in eggs and in blood, but lower in feathers when compared to those reported in the literature. Cadmium and arsenic levels were generally low for all tissues and in all species studied compared to those measured in other studies. Finally, all metal levels for tree swallow tissues in our study were much lower than those reported previously for this species in the Meadowlands District.

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