Ecological trap for seabirds due to the contamination caused by the Fundão dam collapse, Brazil Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Human-induced rapid environmental changes can disrupt habitat quality in the short term. A decrease in quality of habitats associated with preference for these over other available higher quality is referred as ecological trap. In 2015, the Fundão dam containing iron mining tailings, eastern Brazil, collapsed and released about 50 million cubic meters of metal-rich mud composed by Fe, As, Cd, Hg, Pb in three rivers and the adjacent continental shelf. The area is a foraging site for dozens of seabird and shorebird species. In this study, we used a dataset from before and after Fundão dam collapse containing information on at-sea distribution during foraging activities (biologging), dietary aspects (stable isotopes), and trace elements concentration in feathers and blood from three seabird species known to use the area as foraging site: Phaethon aethereus, Sula leucogaster, and Pterodroma arminjoniana. In general, a substantial change in foraging strategies was not detected, as seabirds remain using areas and food resources similar to those used before the dam collapse. However, concentration of non-essential elements increased (e.g., Cd and As) while essential elements decreased (e.g., Mn and Zn), suggesting that the prey are contaminated by trace elements from tailings. This scenario represents evidence of an ecological trap as seabirds did not change habitat use, even though it had its quality reduced by contamination. The sinking-resuspension dynamics of tailings deposited on the continental shelf can temporally increase seabird exposure to contaminants, which can promote deleterious effects on populations using the region as foraging sites in medium and long terms.


  • Nunes, Guilherme Tavares
  • Efe, Márcio Amorim
  • Barreto, Cindy Tavares
  • Gaiotto, Juliana Vallim
  • Silva, Aline Barbosa
  • Vilela, Fiorella
  • Roy, Amédée
  • Bertrand, Sophie
  • Costa, Patrícia Gomes
  • Bianchini, Adalto
  • Bugoni, Leandro

publication date

  • February 2022