Environmental acidification has been associated with factors that may negatively affect reproduction in many waterbirds. Declines in lake pH can lead to reductions in food availability and quality, or result in the altered availability of toxic metals, such as mercury. A recent laboratory study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources indicated that Common Loon (Gavia immer) chicks hatched from eggs collected on acidic lakes in northern Wisconsin may be less responsive to stimuli and exhibit reduced growth compared to chicks from neutral-pH lakes. Here we report on the relation between Common Loon egg characteristics (eggshell thickness and egg volume) and lake pH, as well as eggshell methylmercury content. Eggs (N = 84) and lake pH measurements were obtained from a four county region of northern Wisconsin. Eggshells were 3-4% thinner on lakes with pH ≤ 6.3 than on neutral-pH lakes and this relation was linear across the pH range investigated (P < 0.05). Egg volume also tended to be larger in eggs from neutral-pH lakes. Eggshell methylmercury content however was not significantly related to shell thickness (P > 0.05, n.s.) or lake pH. Results suggest that low lake pH may be associated with thinner eggshells and reduced egg volume in Common Loons. We speculate on the mechanisms that may lead to this phenomenon.
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Vol. 30 • No. 3