Oil sands mining is steadily expanding in Alberta, Canada. Major companies are planning reclamation strategies for mine tailings, in which wetlands will be used for the bioremediation of water and sediments contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and naphthenic acids during the extraction process. A series of experimental wetlands were built on companies' leases to assess the feasibility of this approach, and tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) were designated as upper trophic biological sentinels. From May to July 2004, prevalence and intensity of infestation with bird blow flies Protocalliphora spp. (Diptera: Calliphoridae) were measured in nests on oil sands reclaimed wetlands and compared with those on a reference site. Nestling growth and survival also were monitored. Prevalence of infestation was surprisingly high for a small cavity nester; 100% of the 38 nests examined were infested. Nests on wetlands containing oil sands waste materials harbored on average from 60% to 72% more blow fly larvae than those on the reference site. Nestlings on reclaimed sites suffered mean parasitic burdens about twice that of those on the reference site; and for comparable parasitic load, they exhibited greater pathologic effects (e.g., decreased body mass) than control nestlings. The heavy blow fly infestation on oil sands-impacted wetlands suggests that oil sands mining disturbs several components of the local ecosystem, including habitat characteristics, blow fly predators, and host resistance to parasites.
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Vol. 43 • No. 2