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Research article2015Peer reviewedOpen access

Assessment of contaminant levels and trophic relations at a World Heritage Site by measurements in a characteristic shorebird species

Schwemmer, Philipp; Covaci, Adrian; Das, Krishna; Lepoint, Gilles; Adler, Sven; Garthe, Stefan


The River Elbe is responsible for influxes of contaminants into the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site. We investigated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), oxychlordane (0xC), hexachlorobenzene (HCB), hexachlorocyclohexanes (alpha-, beta-, gamma-HCHs), dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and its metabolites, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in blood and feathers from Eurasian oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus; n=28) at the Elbe and compared it with a non-riverine site about 90 km further north. (1) Mean levels of all contaminants in feathers and serum were significantly higher at the river Sigma PCBs: 27.6 ng/g feather, 37.0 ng/ml serum; Sigma DDTs: 5.3 ng/g feather, 4.4 ng/ml serum) compared with the non-riverine site Sigma PCBs: 6.5 ng/g feather, 1.2 ng/ml serum; Sigma DDTs: 1.4 ng/g feather, 0.5 ng/ml serum). Mean Sigma HCH and HCB levels were <1.8 ng/g in feather and <1.8 ng/ml in serum at both sites. (2) Levels of most detectable compounds in serum and feathers were significantly related, but levels were not consistently higher in either tissue. (3) There was no significant relationship between trophic level in individual oystercatchers (expressed as delta 15N) or the degree of terrestrial feeding (expressed as delta 13C) and contaminant loads. (4) PBDEs were not detected in significant amounts at either site. The results of this study indicate that the outflow from one of Europe's largest river systems is associated with significant historical contamination, reflected by the accumulation of contaminants in body tissues in a coastal benthivore predator. (C) 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Eurasian oystercatcher; Haematopus ostralegus; Wadden Sea; PCB; PBDE; Stable isotopes

Published in

Environmental Research
2015, Volume: 136, pages: 163-172

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