Females skuas poison their chicks during egg development

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  • Published: May 31, 2013
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Chemometrics & Informatics / NMR Knowledge Base / Atomic / MRI Spectroscopy / X-ray Spectrometry / Proteomics / Raman / Infrared Spectroscopy / UV/Vis Spectroscopy / Base Peak

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Organo-chlorine compounds accumulate in skua chicks via transfer from their mothers during egg development, rather than though their own diet after birth, say Norwegian and UK scientists. Great skuas from Shetland are one of the most contaminated of the North Atlantic seabirds due to their accumulation of the persistent organic pollutants, known as POPs but the exact mechanism of the contamination remains unclear.

In a new study published in Environmental Science and Technology, the influence of dietary and maternal sources on the POP burden of chicks has been studied by manipulating the diet of their mothers during rearing. The parents were given cat food (based on beef) that contained far lower levels of POPs than their natural diet and the concentrations that passed through to the chicks were measured in their blood by mass spectrometry.

The diet of the mother birds had little effect on the POP levels in the chick with maternal transfer via the eggs being far more significant. The strongest influence was the wintering area of the birds, with those spending time in Europe having total organo-chlorine compound concentrations about 50% higher than those overwintering in Africa. This reflects the organo-chlorine burden of the two regions.

As well as highlighting the way that the chicks become contaminated, the results suggest that skuas should not be used as bioindicators of local pollution.

Image: Doug McVeigh for Australian Antarctic Division

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