Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

Pollutant levels decrease significantly with latitude in Southern Giant Petrels

Jose Roscales (Department of Instrumental Analysis and Environmental Chemistry, Institute of Organic Chemistry, Madrid, Spain) and colleagues have published in the journal Environmental Research showing that overall Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) burdens in Southern Giant Petrels Macronectes giganteus decrease southwards across the Southern Ocean.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Studies on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in Antarctic wildlife are scarce, and usually limited to a single locality.  As a result, wildlife exposure to POPs across the Southern Ocean is poorly understood.  In this study, we report the differential exposure of the major southern ocean scavengers, the giant petrels, to POPs across a wide latitudinal gradient.  Selected POPs (PCBs, HCB, DDTs, PBDEs) and related compounds, such as Dechlorane Plus (DP), were analyzed in plasma of southern giant petrels (Macronectes giganteus) breeding on Livingston (62°S 61°W, Antarctica), Marion (46°S 37°E, sub-Antarctic), and Gough (40°S 10°W, cool temperate) islands.   Northern giant petrels (Macronectes halli) from Marion Island were also studied.  Stable isotope ratios of C and N (δ13C and δ15N) were used as dietary tracers of the marine habitat and trophic level, respectively.  Breeding locality was a major factor explaining petrel exposure to POPs compared with species and sex.  Significant relationships between δ13C values and POP burdens, at both inter- and intra-population levels, support latitudinal variations in feeding grounds as a key factor in explaining petrel pollutant burdens.  Overall, pollutant levels in giant petrels decreased significantly with latitude, but the relative abundance (%) of the more volatile POPs increased towards Antarctica.  DP was found at negligible levels compared with legacy POPs in Antarctic seabirds.  Spatial POP patterns found in giant petrels match those predicted by global distribution models, and reinforce the hypothesis of atmospheric long-range transport as the main source of POPs in Antarctica.  Our results confirm that wildlife movements out of the polar region markedly increase their exposure to POPs.  Therefore, strategies for Antarctic wildlife conservation should consider spatial heterogeneity in exposure to marine pollution.  Of particular relevance is the need to clarify the exposure of Antarctic predators to emerging contaminants that are not yet globally regulated.”


Southern Giant Petrel on Gough Island, photograph by John Cooper


Roscales, J.L., González-Solís, J., Zango, L., Ryan, P.G. & Jiménez, B. 2016.  Latitudinal exposure to DDTs, HCB, PCBs, PBDEs and DP in giant petrels (Macronectes spp.) across the Southern Ocean.  Environmental Research 148: 285-294.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 29 April 2016

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