Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
Mercury contamination has always been suspected as being one of the causes of the massive wading bird decline in Florida’s Everglades. But when scientists conducted a five year controlled study of ibis in captivity, even they were surprised by the results.
Peter Fredrick, a UF wildlife ecology and conservation professor, built a huge aviary and stocked it with 160 white ibis. The birds were divided into four groups, which were given food with of low, medium and high levels of mercury. The fourth group was fed a mercury free diet.
In the group of birds that ate the highest levels of mercury more than half the males paired off with other males, and females produced 35% fewer chicks.
Even the birds that ate the highest levels of mercury in the study did not consume any more mercury than they would have in the wild, and the scientists were surprised at the relatively low levels of mercury that affected hormones and mating behavior. The study suggests that there may be many more species of wildlife that are being affected by mercury in the environment.
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