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Presentation

Abstract

Osprey are birds of prey that feed exclusively on a diet of fish, and are therefore extremely susceptible to contamination in the aquatic systems. In particular, methyl mercury is known to be a very dangerous neurotoxin. This is part of a long-term study of osprey biology and demography, in which the current study focuses on ecotoxicology of methyl mercury in ospreys. The purpose of this study is twofold: to determine the extent of Mercury contamination in the Clark Fork River as well as to understand the effect it is having on osprey’s reproductive success. In order to accomplish this, we surveyed many osprey nests throughout the area, in both high-mercury and low-mercury watersheds. We took small blood and feather samples as well as counting the number of eggs and chicks in each nest. We also used remote control helicopters as a relatively non-invasive method for counting eggs in the nest. I also developed an interactive map to serve both for a convenient database as well as a part of public outreach. Mercury concentration in osprey blood has a significant and disturbing effect on the survivorship of osprey chicks; over half of the eggs in some nest fail to hatch. Ospreys are a useful indicator of overall river health, and this shockingly high contamination level may have severe implications for the ecosystem and human life.

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Apr 11th, 2:40 PM Apr 11th, 3:00 PM

Mercury Contamination in the Local Osprey Population

Osprey are birds of prey that feed exclusively on a diet of fish, and are therefore extremely susceptible to contamination in the aquatic systems. In particular, methyl mercury is known to be a very dangerous neurotoxin. This is part of a long-term study of osprey biology and demography, in which the current study focuses on ecotoxicology of methyl mercury in ospreys. The purpose of this study is twofold: to determine the extent of Mercury contamination in the Clark Fork River as well as to understand the effect it is having on osprey’s reproductive success. In order to accomplish this, we surveyed many osprey nests throughout the area, in both high-mercury and low-mercury watersheds. We took small blood and feather samples as well as counting the number of eggs and chicks in each nest. We also used remote control helicopters as a relatively non-invasive method for counting eggs in the nest. I also developed an interactive map to serve both for a convenient database as well as a part of public outreach. Mercury concentration in osprey blood has a significant and disturbing effect on the survivorship of osprey chicks; over half of the eggs in some nest fail to hatch. Ospreys are a useful indicator of overall river health, and this shockingly high contamination level may have severe implications for the ecosystem and human life.