2022 Student Research Conference:
35th Annual Student Research Conference

Does Mercury Exposure in an Insectivorous Bird Affect Development of a Sexually Selected Trait?

Kallista M. Stubblefield
Dr. Joanna Hubbard, Faculty Mentor

Due to its non-biodegradable and accumulative nature, mercury contamination is a major environmental concern. As a neurotoxin, mercury has been linked to nerve and muscle cell damage, as well as organ failure. Since many organisms are unable to expel mercury from their bodies, concentrations increase throughout ecological food chains as predators consume contaminated prey. Birds, however, have the unique ability to sequester heavy metals through feather growth, reducing concentrations in their bodies. Assimilation of these toxins into feathers can disrupt melanin production and deposition, impacting color of sexually selected traits. Thus, , we predicted that as mercury concentrations increased in breast and throat plumage samples of North American barn swallows, brightness of these feathers would also increase. Despite finding high concentrations of mercury in adult birds, we found no relationship between plumage color and mercury concentration, suggesting mercury exposure likely does not interfere with sexual signalling in these birds.

Keywords: mercury, heavy metals, neurotoxin, sexual selection, barn swallows, bio-accumulation, plumage, ecology

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Presentation Type: Asynchronous Virtual Presentation

Session: 3-12
Location: https://flipgrid.com/d54e4a1e
Time: 0:00

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