Mercury patterns in wood duck eggs from a contaminated reservoir in South Carolina, USA

Robert A. Kennamer, Jason R. Stout, Brian P. Jackson, Sheila V. Colwell, I. Lehr Brisbin, Joanna Burger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Mercury contamination of wildlife populations has been documented widely in recent years as biomonitoring has become an important tool for assessing environmental contamination. Avian eggs provide an ideal assay material for Hg biomonitoring, particularly when the collection of eggs is simplified by using cavity-nesting species that nest in easily monitored nest boxes. However, studies are needed that address the dynamics of how Hg is distributed within eggs, and how Hg is deposited naturally within clutches laid by a single female and among clutches laid by different females occupying the same contaminated environment. We collected 138 eggs from 13 complete clutches of box-nesting wood ducks (Aix sponsa) during 1991 and 1992 at a contaminated reservoir of the U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River Site in South Carolina, USA. Total Hg residues in egg components and clutches were determined, partitioning of Hg among egg components was examined, and effects of egg-laying sequence on egg component Hg levels were determined. Mean albumen Hg was 0.22 ppm wet mass, mean yolk Hg was 0.04 ppm, and mean shell Hg was 0.03 ppm. On average, 86.1% of total egg Hg was concentrated in the albumen, 11.2% in the yolk, and 2.7% in the shell. Mercury concentrations in all egg components varied significantly among clutches and between successive clutches laid by the same female in the same year. Laying sequence significantly affected Hg concentrations in the albumen and shell, but not in the yolk. Declines of albumen Hg due to laying sequence were more pronounced for clutches that contained higher average Hg levels. Our results suggest that collection of first-laid eggs may be preferable for assessing maximal Hg exposure to developing embryos, and that monitoring Hg levels through the use of empty eggshells following brood departure from nests may be valid only if the laying sequence is known.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1793-1800
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


  • Aix sponsa
  • Egg-laying sequence
  • Mercury
  • Savannah River Site

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