The occurrence and toxicology of heavy metals in Chesapeake Bay waterfowl

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The goals of this study were to elucidate relationships between food habits and tissue accumulations of heavy metals in Chesapeake Bay waterfowl and to determine effects of chronic cadmium and lead ingestion on energy metabolism in waterfowl.

Concentrations of cadmium, lead, copper, and zinc were measured in 774 livers, 266 kidneys, and 271 ulnar bones from 15 species of ducks obtained from the Chesapeake Bay region. Liver and kidney concentrations of cadmium were highest among two carnivorous sea duck species, Clangula hyemalis and Melanitta deglandi. In contrast, lead concentrations in three tissues were generally highest in largely herbivorous species, such as Anas platyrhynchos, Anas rubripes, and Anas strepera. Spent shot may be an important source for tissue burdens of lead in these ducks. No marked trends were observed between food habits and tissue concentrations of copper or zinc.

Cadmium and lead concentrations were generally higher in benthic macrophytes than in soft tissues of clams collected from several locations in the Bay. These results suggest that the change that has occurred in the food habits of some Chesapeake Bay ducks, most notably Aythya valisineria to diets composed largely of clams rather than aquatic vegetation probably did not increase ingestion of these elements.

In experiments conducted with A. platyrhynchos, chronic ingestion of equal dietary concentrations of cadmium and lead resulted in about 15 times greater accumulation of cadmium than lead in livers and kidneys. However, while ulnar bones accumulated lead, cadmium concentrations in bones remained below detection limits. Cadmium ingestion enhanced renal accumulation of copper and zinc, perhaps due to induction of metallothionein by cadmium.

In combination with an imposed food restriction, cadmium ingestion appeared to alter some indices of energy metabolism, such as plasma concentrations of free fatty acids and triiodothyronine, at dietary cadmium levels far below those eliciting similar responses in the absence of a food restriction. Those results suggest the importance of considering interactions with other stressors when examining potential effects of environmental contaminants on wild animals.