Food containing mercury has been identified as a possible health risk. Total mercury (THg), which is inorganic (Hg²), and methylmercury (MeHg) species, has been found in the arctic food web. In Alaska, birds are an important seasonal component of the diet, but have not been studied extensively and characterized for the presence of mercury. Birds are good subjects for examination because they feed at different trophic levels, can be long-lived, and are both abundant and widely distributed. Not only can birds monitor local Alaskan food webs, but, if they are migratory, can be used to compare exposure in different regions. Mercury levels in muscle, brain, and bone tissue of 140 birds taken by subsistence hunters across southwestern Alaska were determined. I tested the null hypothesis of no interspecific differences in total mercury levels in the 18 species of Alaska birds surveyed. There were interspecific differences with the Lesser Scaup (Aythyra marila mariloides), and the Black Scoter (Melanita nigra Americana), having the highest levels of mercury. In general, mercury levels were higher in muscle than in brain or bone. The mean values for mercury in the species studied were lower than the levels known to cause adverse reproductive or behavioral effects.
Thesis (M.S.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2005
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