New Paper - 45 Years of Mercury in Clapper Rails from New Hanover County North Carolina

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One big struggle in seeing change in environmental systems is the lack of long term data. Change is often slow, so if we don’t have decades of data it can be hard to tell what is actually happening. Using museum specimens, which often reach far back in time, is one way of trying to understand trends over the long term.

In this case we are talking about mercury in the environment, particuarlly in New Hanover County, North Carolina. By using museum specimens from two local museums we were able to look at how mercury levels have changed over the past 45 years in these coastal wetlands, habitats which could be very vulnerable to human causes sources of increased mercury.

Sparrows who winter in these habitats have been found to have high mercury levels, which is cause for concern, but our work here shows that mercury in these coastal wetlands is not showing any trend, which suggests the mercury in sparrows could be coming from another part of their annual cycle. This is important for understanding the mercury in these sparrows, but also for providing baseline data for future research, or for comparison to future environmental or human disaster.

Story Behind the Paper

I’ve never me any of my coauthors on this paper. I ‘met’ Michael Polito over twitter, when I tweeted about being willing to help anyone with rail data laying around that they wanted to publish. Kyle Welsh’s senior thesis from undergrad hadn’t been published and Michale said if I wanted to help polish it up we could work together with the others involved in the project. A little over a year later here we are! I was excited to help get mroe information about rails, a very under studied group of birds, out into the literature and dip my toes into Ecotoxicology and learn a bit about mercury.

Twitter FTW!

Written on July 10, 2016