Seabird transported contaminants are dispersed in island ecosystems

Megan L. Grant, Alexander L. Bond, Suzie M. Reichman, Jennifer L. Lavers

Seabirds are long-range transporters of nutrients and contaminants, linking marine feeding areas with terrestrial breeding and roosting sites. By depositing nutrient-rich guano, which acts as a fertiliser, seabirds can substantially influence the terrestrial environment in which they reside. However, increasing pollution of the marine environment has resulted in guano becoming similarly polluted. Here, we determined metal and metalloid concentrations (As, Cd, Cr, Cu, Hg, Pb) in Flesh-footed Shearwater (Ardenna carneipes) guano, soil, terrestrial flora, and primary consumers and used an ecological approach to assess whether the trace elements in guano were bioaccumulating and contaminating the surrounding environment. Concentrations in guano were higher than those of other Procellariiformes documented in the literature, which may be influenced by the high amounts of plastics that this species of shearwater ingests. Soil samples from shearwater colonies had significantly higher concentrations of all metals, except for Pb, than soils from control sites and formerly occupied areas. Concentrations in terrestrial primary producers and primary consumers were not as marked, and for many contaminants there was no significant difference observed across levels of ornithogenic input. We conclude that Flesh-footed Shearwaters are transporters of marine derived contaminants to the Lord Howe Island terrestrial environment