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Open AccessArticle

Heavy Metals in Biota in Delaware Bay, NJ: Developing a Food Web Approach to Contaminants

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Division of Life Sciences, Rutgers University, 604 Allison Road, Piscataway, NJ 08854-8082, USA
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Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, Piscataway, NJ 08854, USA
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New Jersey Audubon, 11 Hardscrabble Rd, Bernardsville, NJ 07924, USA
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Niles and Associates, 109 Market Lane, Greenwich, NJ 08323, USA
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Endangered and Nongame Species Program, Department of Environmental Protection, Trenton, NJ 08608, USA
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Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and School of Public Health, Piscataway, NJ 08854, USA
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Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Toxics 2019, 7(2), 34; https://doi.org/10.3390/toxics7020034
Received: 14 May 2019 / Revised: 7 June 2019 / Accepted: 10 June 2019 / Published: 13 June 2019
(This article belongs to the Section Risk Assessment and Risk Management)
Understanding the relationship between heavy metal and selenium levels in biota and their foods is important, but often difficult to determine because animals eat a variety of organisms. Yet such information is critical to managing species populations, ecological integrity, and risk to receptors (including humans) from consumption of certain prey. We examine levels of cadmium, lead, mercury, and selenium in biota from Delaware Bay (New Jersey, USA) to begin construction of a “springtime” food web that focuses on shorebirds. Horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) eggs are one of the key components at the base of the food web, and crab spawning in spring provides a food resource supporting a massive stopover of shorebirds. Fish and other biota also forage on the crab eggs, and a complex food web leads directly to top-level predators such as bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) and striped bass (Morone saxatilis), both of which are consumed by egrets, eagles, ospreys (Pandion haliaetus), and humans. Metal levels in tissues were generally similar in algae, invertebrates, and small fish, and these were similar to those in blood of shorebirds (but not feathers). There was a significant direct relationship between the levels of metals in eggs of horseshoe crabs and mean metal levels in the blood of four species of shorebirds. Metal levels in shorebird feathers were higher than those in blood (except for selenium), reflecting sequestration of metals in feathers during their formation. Levels in feathers of laughing gulls (Leucophaeus atricilla) were similar to those in feathers of shorebirds (except for selenium). Selenium bears special mention as levels were significantly higher in the blood of all shorebird species than in other species in the food web, and were similar to levels in their feathers. Levels of metals in bluefish and striped bass were similar or higher than those found in the blood of shorebirds (except for selenium). The mean levels of cadmium, lead, and mercury in the blood and feathers of shorebirds were below any effect levels, but selenium levels in the blood and feathers of shorebirds were higher than the sublethal effect levels for birds. This is a cause for concern, and warrants further examination. View Full-Text
Keywords: cadmium; lead; mercury; selenium; shorebirds; red knot; ruddy turnstone; sanderling; semipalmated sandpiper; blood; feathers; horseshoe crab eggs; Limulus polyphemus cadmium; lead; mercury; selenium; shorebirds; red knot; ruddy turnstone; sanderling; semipalmated sandpiper; blood; feathers; horseshoe crab eggs; Limulus polyphemus
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Burger, J.; Tsipoura, N.; Niles, L.; Dey, A.; Jeitner, C.; Gochfeld, M. Heavy Metals in Biota in Delaware Bay, NJ: Developing a Food Web Approach to Contaminants. Toxics 2019, 7, 34.

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