As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Friday 25 January 2019

Global mercury pollution threatens to impact the energy metabolism of birds

Mercury is a highly toxic and pervasive pollutant that has dramatically increased in the environment as a result of coal combustion, gold mining, cement production, hospital waste incineration, and various other human activities around the globe. Its impacts on birds and other wildlife are not yet fully understood, but a new study published in the journal Environmental Pollution suggests that current levels of mercury contamination in many parts of the world are capable of compromising the ability of birds, and likely other vertebrates, to both conserve and rapidly exert energy when needed.
The research team from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, College of William & Mary, and Great Hollow Nature Preserve & Ecological Research Center found that exposure to environmentally relevant dietary levels of mercury significantly increased the resting metabolic rate of zebra finches while significantly reducing the maximum rate at which they could sustain high-intensity activity (i.e., their "peak metabolic rate").
"The ability of birds and most other living things to conserve and efficiently manage their energy is critical for reproduction, self-maintenance, and even their overall survival," said one of the study's authors, Chad Seewagen. "During winter, for example, when temperatures are cold and food is extremely limited, a bird's ability to conserve energy can easily mean the difference between life and death. At the same time, the ability of birds to rapidly exert large amounts of energy for behaviors like predator escape and long-distance flight is also of critical importance."

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