Newswise — Portland, ME— A new study led by researchers from Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) shows that Harlequin Ducks in coastal areas of Alaska’s Kodiak and Unalaska islands are exposed to environmental sources of mercury and that mercury concentrations in their blood are associated with their local food source, mainly blue mussels.

“In North America and in Europe, some waterfowl species have long served as important indicators of ecological health,” says Lucas Savoy, director of BRI’s waterfowl program and lead author on the paper. “The process of collecting samples, such as blood and feathers, provides important information on the overall health of an individual bird, a population, and the environment that wildlife and humans share and rely on for survival.”

Conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the study, carried out over a three-year period, focused on two geographically distinct locations in southwest Alaska—Kodiak and Unalaska islands.

“Efforts such as this that document contaminant exposure and evaluate risks to wildlife are a prerequisite step in informing the general public and natural resource management officials about wildlife and ecosystem health,” says Paul Flint, a research wildlife biologist of the USGS, and co-author of the paper.

The scientific paper Geographic and temporal patterns of variation in total mercury concentrations in blood of harlequin ducks and blue mussels from Alaska, published by the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, is available online.

The new study builds on a history of collaborative and independent research by BRI and the USGS to understand the level of mercury in wildlife and habitats of Alaska and inform the public and other stakeholders about these findings.


Biodiversity Research Institute, headquartered in Portland, Maine, is a nonprofit ecological research group whose mission is to assess emerging threats to wildlife and ecosystems through collaborative research, and to use scientific findings to advance environmental awareness and inform decision makers. BRI supports ten research programs within three research centers including the Center for Mercury Studies, which was initiated in 2011.

The U.S. Geological Survey is the science agency for the Department of Interior. The USGS provides impartial science information about the natural hazards that threaten lives and livelihoods; the water, energy, minerals, and other natural resources we rely on; the health of our ecosystems and environment; and the impacts of climate and land-use change.

Journal Link: Marine Pollution Bulletin Feb 2017