Birds of prey occupy high trophic levels and can consequently bioaccumulate high levels of environmental contaminants. To evaluate exposure to past- and current-use pollutants, we measured legacy contaminants (i.e., polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs]; organochlorine pesticides, e.g., DDT), contaminants of emerging concern (polybrominated diphenyl ethers [PBDEs]; perfluorinated compounds [PFCs]), and stable isotopes (δ13C, δ15N) in 26 birds of prey (10 species) from coastal South Carolina (USA) sampled in 2009 and 2010. Nitrogen isotope ratios (δ15N) ranged from 5.2% to 13.7%, indicating the birds of prey spanned two to three trophic levels. Legacy contaminant levels were highly variable but generally comparable to levels reported previously for birds of prey in the southeast US, suggesting exposure has not declined substantially over the past 40 yr. Despite their status as newly emerging environmental contaminants, PFC levels were within the same order of magnitude as legacy contaminants. Although PBDEs were less prevalent, levels were among the greatest observed in wildlife to date (ΣPBDEs max. 200 μg/g lipid). Relative contaminant profiles also varied between birds of prey utilizing low and high trophic levels; specifically PFCs contributed to a larger proportion of the contaminant burden in birds utilizing high trophic levels, whereas the legacy pesticide mirex was a larger contributor in low-trophic-level birds, indicating that relative exposure is in part dependent on foraging ecology. This study demonstrates that birds of prey continue to face exposure to legacy contaminants as well as newly emerging contaminants at levels of concern.
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Vol. 49 • No. 2