Loons and Mercury

Loons and MercuryHere’s a program from our archives.music; ambience: Loon CallsLoons have fascinated humans for centuries. Well, now scientists are closely observing loons as an indicator species– an early warning sign of a problem that could be effecting many ecosystems. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.Dave Evers is a scientist with the Earthwatch Institute. He tells us that airborne mercury particles, produced largely by factories and incinerators, can make their way into an ecosystem’s water supply and into the diets of the animals that live there, including loons.Evers: And once that mercury gets into the system, it starts building up. And if you could just think of a lake as this funnel from the watershed of all this mercury that fell in this landscape, collected in that watershed, eventually comes down into that lake– that lake has now concentrated all that mercury from that watershed. And because the loon’s on the high end of the food chain, and because they live a long time, they’re more in danger than other species or other wildlife.And since mercury affects the brains of the animals who ingest it, it’s likely to change their behavior as well. By closely observing the daily activities of loons, scientists may be alerted to rising mercury levels in the animals’ ecosystem.Evers: What we feel with this project is that we can start to quantify these potential effects of mercury on loons by sitting on the shoreline and watching loons all day and recording their behaviors and recording every movement that they have.After over 800 hours of observations, Dave Evers and his colleagues have determined that young loons in high mercury level areas seem less mobile and less well fed than other loons in lakes with low mercury levels.We’ve been listening to a program from our archives. If you want to hear more, check out our podcast. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Loons and Mercury

Does an increase in mercury levels affect the behavior of young loons?
Air Date:06/07/2021
Scientist:
Transcript:

Loons and MercuryHere's a program from our archives.music; ambience: Loon CallsLoons have fascinated humans for centuries. Well, now scientists are closely observing loons as an indicator species-- an early warning sign of a problem that could be effecting many ecosystems. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.Dave Evers is a scientist with the Earthwatch Institute. He tells us that airborne mercury particles, produced largely by factories and incinerators, can make their way into an ecosystem's water supply and into the diets of the animals that live there, including loons.Evers: And once that mercury gets into the system, it starts building up. And if you could just think of a lake as this funnel from the watershed of all this mercury that fell in this landscape, collected in that watershed, eventually comes down into that lake-- that lake has now concentrated all that mercury from that watershed. And because the loon's on the high end of the food chain, and because they live a long time, they're more in danger than other species or other wildlife.And since mercury affects the brains of the animals who ingest it, it's likely to change their behavior as well. By closely observing the daily activities of loons, scientists may be alerted to rising mercury levels in the animals' ecosystem.Evers: What we feel with this project is that we can start to quantify these potential effects of mercury on loons by sitting on the shoreline and watching loons all day and recording their behaviors and recording every movement that they have.After over 800 hours of observations, Dave Evers and his colleagues have determined that young loons in high mercury level areas seem less mobile and less well fed than other loons in lakes with low mercury levels.We've been listening to a program from our archives. If you want to hear more, check out our podcast. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.