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Concentrations of lead and other elements in the liver of the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), a European flagship species, wintering in Eastern Poland

Kitowski, Ignacy, Jakubas, Dariusz, Wiącek, Dariusz, Sujak, Agnieszka
Ambio 2017 v.46 no.8 pp. 825-841
Haliaeetus albicilla, adults, bioavailability, cadmium, calcium, chromium, copper, females, flagship species, food chain, immatures, indicator species, iron, lead, lead poisoning, liver, magnesium, males, manganese, mercury, migratory behavior, potassium, selenium, sodium, strontium, zinc, Poland
As a top predator, the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) may serve as a good indicator species, providing information about the bioavailability of contaminants and their transfer within the food chain. In this study, we aimed to determine the common sources of origin of 17 metals and other elements in the liver of white-tailed eagles, and to compare the variations in their hepatic concentrations by age (adults vs immatures) and sex (males vs females) in groups of white-tailed eagles wintering in Eastern Poland. The element concentrations followed the pattern of S > K > Na > Fe > Mg > Ca > Zn > Cu > Mn > Se > Pb > Hg > Cd > Cr > Sr > V > Sc. We found significant age-related differences in the hepatic concentrations of some of the elements. Adults showed higher concentrations of Pb, Cd, Ca, Fe, and Zn and lower concentrations of Cu and Se than immatures. These differences may be explained by age-related differences in wintering strategy (adults are sedentary, and immatures are migratory) and hunting skills (adults are more successful when hunting for agile prey). Our study indicates that ingested Pb ammunition poses a serious threat to the health and lives of white-tailed eagles in Poland (32% of the studied individuals had acute lead poisoning). Our study also indicates a serious need for banning the use of lead hunting ammunition in the parts of Europe (including Poland) where it is still allowed.