2021 Student Research Conference:
34th Annual Student Research Conference

Does mercury exposure in an insectivorous bird affect the development of a colorful plumage trait?

Kallista M. Stubblefield
Dr. Joanna Hubbard, Faculty Mentor

Mercury is a neurotoxin that has been linked to nerve and muscle cell failure and organ damage. Mercury contamination has become a major environmental problem due to its non-biodegradable and accumulative nature. Since many organisms are unable to expel ingested mercury, mercury concentration increases as predators consume contaminated prey. Birds have the unique ability to mitigate these effects by sequestering heavy metal toxins into their feathers during growth. This assimilation of mercury causes disruptions in melanin production and deposition, thus impacting feather color and sexually selected traits. This study investigates the effects of mercury deposition on melanin based feather coloration using barn swallows,  Hirundo rustica. We compared light reflectance from melanin based plumage a with the concentrations of mercury found in these samples. Additionally, quantifying feather mercury concentration in adult and nestling barn swallows provides insight into the levels of mercury exposure on both the breeding and wintering grounds.

Keywords: Ecotoxicology, heavy metal toxins, mercury, plumage, barn swallow, sexual selection, melanin, bioaccumulation

Environmental Studies

Presentation Type: Asynchronous Virtual Oral Presentation

Session: 4-4
Location: https://flipgrid.com/7ba08930
Time: 0:00

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