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1 October 2011 Mercury Exposure Affects the Reproductive Success of a Free-Living Terrestrial Songbird, the Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
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Despite mounting evidence of mercury accumulation in terrestrial ecosystems, few data exist on how environmental mercury exposure affects reproductive success in free-living songbirds. From 2007 through 2010, we monitored reproductive success of Carolina Wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) breeding along the forest floodplain of two mercury-contaminated rivers in Virginia. Using an information-theoretic approach, we found a 34% reduction in nesting success of Carolina Wrens on mercury-contaminated sites when compared with reference sites. Blood mercury concentration of the attending female was a strong predictor of nest success. Birds nesting on contaminated sites were 3× more likely to abandon their nests than birds on uncontaminated reference sites. We report a range of effects concentrations associated with various levels of reproductive impairment; for example, a 10% reduction in nest success corresponded with 0.7 µg g-1 mercury in the blood, 2.4 µg g-1 mercury in body feathers, 3.0 µg g-1 mercury in tail feathers, and 0.11 µg g-1 mercury in eggs. This is the first field study to document the effect of specific adult songbird blood mercury concentrations on breeding performance; our results show that free-living songbirds can suffer negative reproductive effects at relatively low mercury concentrations.

© 2011 by The American Ornithologists' Union. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press's Rights and Permissions website,
Allyson K. Jackson, David C. Evers, Matthew A. Etterson, Anne M. Condon, Sarah B. Folsom, Jennifer Detweiler, John Schmerfeld, and Daniel A. Cristol "Mercury Exposure Affects the Reproductive Success of a Free-Living Terrestrial Songbird, the Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)," The Auk 128(4), 759-769, (1 October 2011).
Received: 13 May 2011; Accepted: 23 August 2011; Published: 1 October 2011

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