Inter-annual variation in winter distribution impacts individual seabird contamination with mercury

Céline Albert* (Corresponding Author), Vegard Sandøy Bråthen, Sébastien Descamps, Tycho Anker-Nilssen, Alexander Cherenkov, Signe Christensen Dalsgaard, Jóhannis Danielsen, Kjell Einar Erikstad, Maria Gavrilo , Sveinn Are Hanssen, Hálfdán Helgi Helgason, Jón Einar Jónsson, Yann Kolbeinsson, Yuri Krasnov, Magdalene Langset, Erlend Lorentzen, Bergur Olsen, Tone Kristin Reiertsen, Hallvard Strøm, Geir Helge Systad Grigori Tertitsk, Paul Thompson, Thorkell Lindberg Thórarinsson, Paco Bustamante, Borge Moe, Jérôme Fort

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
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Migratory seabirds are exposed to various pollutants throughout their annual cycle. Among them, mercury (Hg) is of particular concern given large impacts on animals’ health. Recent studies suggest that winter is a critical period for seabirds when contamination by Hg can be higher than other times of year. However, individuals within and between species can have different migration strategies that could affect their exposure. Here, we combined multi-year individual tracking data and Hg measurements from six Arctic seabird species. We investigated whether inter-annual variations in individual winter contamination with Hg was related to their fidelity to a wintering site over years. First, our results show that Hg concentrations above the toxicity threshold (i.e., 5 µg g -1 dw in feathers) were observed in variable proportions according to species (from 2% of northern fulmars to 37% of Brünnich’s guillemots). Second, individuals with high fidelity to a wintering ground had more similar Hg concentrations among years compared to individuals with low fidelity, suggesting an effect of their migratory strategy on Hg contamination. Further, we found that the directional change in wintering areas among years influenced their Hg contamination, highlighting an additional effect of seabirds’ winter distribution. More specifically, individuals migrating to the northwest direction of a previous wintering ground tended to be more contaminated compared those moving to eastern directions. These results confirm spatial differences in Hg concentration throughout the North Atlantic-Arctic and an east-west gradient increase in Hg concentrations. Verifying this trend will require more large-scale ecotoxicological studies at smaller spatial resolution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-254
Number of pages12
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Early online date9 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

This study is part of several research programs supported by the French Agency for National Research (MAMBA project ANR-16-TERC-0004, ILETOP project ANR-16-CE34-0005), the French Arctic Initiative - CNRS (PARCS project), the Mission pour l'Interdisciplinarité - CNRS (Changements en Sibérie project), the French Polar Institute (IPEV - Pgr 388 ADACLIM) and the European Commission (Marie Curie IEF to J.F., Project 273061). This study represents a contribution to the French Polar Institute ADACLIM research program (IPEV Pgr 388). C.A is supported by a PhD fellowship from the French Ministry of higher education and research. Thanks to the CPER (Contrat de Projet Etat-Région) and the FEDER (Fonds Européen de Développement Régional) for funding the AMA and the IRMS of LIENSs laboratory. We thank the plateforme analytique of the Institut du Littoral, Environnement et Sociétés (LIENSs) and Maud Brault-Favrou for the technical support on the Hg analyses. Fieldwork on Eynhallow was conducted under permits from the British Trust for Ornithology for catching and instrumenting fulmars, and the UK Home Office for feather sampling. We thank Orkney Islands Council for access to this colony. The deployment and retrieval of GLS-loggers, and sampling of feathers and blood were conducted as part of the SEATRACK-program ( in Northern Europe (Norwegian and UK colonies) made possible through close cooperation with the SEAPOP program (, Norwegian Research Council grant #192141) and ARCTOX network ( The work was supported by a grant (232019) from the Fram Center flagship “Climate Change in Fjord and Coast” to BM.


  • Bio-logging
  • feathers
  • Migration
  • North-Atlantic Arctic
  • pollutant


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