Mercury, legacy and emerging POPs, and endocrine-behavioural linkages: Implications of Arctic change in a diving seabird Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Arctic species encounter multiple stressors including climate change and environmental contaminants. Some contaminants may disrupt hormones that govern the behavioural responses of wildlife to climatic variation, and thus the capacity of species to respond to climate change. We investigated correlative interactions between legacy and emerging persistent organic pollutants (POPs), mercury (Hg), hormones and behaviours, in thick-billed murres (Uria lomvia) (N = 163) breeding in northern Hudson Bay (2016-2018). The blood profile of the murres was dominated by methylmercury (MeHg), followed by much lower levels of sum (∑) 35 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and p,p'-dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethylene (DDE), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) BDE-47, -99 and BDE-100; all other measured organochlorine pesticides and replacement brominated flame retardants had low concentrations if detected. Inter-annual variations occurred in MeHg, circulating triiodothyronine (T3), thyroxine (T4), and the foraging behaviours of the murres, identified using GPS-accelerometers. Compared to the 50-year mean date (1971-2021) for 50% of sea-ice coverage in Hudson Bay, sea-ice breakup was 1-2 weeks earlier (2016, 2017) or comparable (2018). Indeed, 2017 was the earliest year on record. Consistent with relationships identified individually between MeHg and total T3, and T3 and foraging behaviour, a direct interaction between these three parameters was evident when all possible interactions among measured chemical pollutants, hormones, and behaviours of the murres were considered collectively (path analysis). When murres were likely already stressed due to early sea-ice breakup (2016, 2017), blood MeHg influenced circulating T3 that in turn reduced foraging time underwater. We conclude that when sea-ice breaks up early in the breeding season, Hg may interfere with the ability of murres to adjust their foraging behaviour via T3 in relation to variation in sea-ice.


  • Esparza, Ilse
  • Elliott, Kyle H
  • Choy, Emily
  • Braune, Birgit M
  • Letcher, Robert J
  • Patterson, Allison
  • Fernie, Kim J

publication date

  • September 2022