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Tracking the North Pacific Albatrosses to Unveil Mechanisms for Contaminant LoadingEPA Grant Number: F5D91356
Title: Tracking the North Pacific Albatrosses to Unveil Mechanisms for Contaminant Loading
Investigators: Henry, R. W.
Institution: University of California - Santa Cruz
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: January 1, 2005 through December 31, 2008
Project Amount: $107,312
RFA: GRO Fellowships for Graduate Environmental Study (2005) RFA Text | Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships
The primary objective of my project is to examine whether spatial variation in foraging range affects the accumulation of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heavy metals in wide ranging top marine predators. I will create a mechanistic model of the threat of persistent bioaccumulative toxins to pelagic predators by combining data on albatross movement patterns, diet, trophic status, their contaminant loads, and the contaminant loads of their prey.
This project examines how spatial variation in foraging range affects the bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heavy metals in wide ranging top marine predators. It will produce a mechanistic model of the threat of marine contaminants to pelagic predators by combining electronic tracking data on Laysan Albatross movement patterns, diet, their contaminant loads, and the contaminant loads of their prey. A s identified by the Stockholm Convention, this is a critical first step towards reducing the input and impacts of marine contaminants to humans and wildlife.
I use state of the art electronic tracking devices to determine if Laysan Albatrosses (Phoebastria immutabilis) foraging along the California Current have differential exposure to marine toxicants than birds foraging in the central North Pacific Current. My work has 5 components:
- Contrast POP and heavy metal concentrations in blood samples collected from tracked albatrosses breeding the Eastern Pacific and the Central Pacific Ocean.
- Identify prey items consumed by both populations through analyses of diet samples collected from tracked adults and their chicks.
- Determine concentration of POPs and heavy metals for the most common albatross prey items in each region and test for associations between these values and large-scale oceanographic processes (e.g. upwelling and pelagic gyres).
- Calibrate trophic consumption between populations by comparing whole blood δ15N values between birds that forage in the Central vs. Eastern Pacific.
- Link albatross diet with oceanographic processes by comparing whole blood δ13C values between birds foraging in the Central vs. Eastern Pacific.
This systems approach will synthesize a suite of ecosystem variables to model the flow of toxicants through marine food webs in the North Pacific at a basin-wide scale.
I expect to find patterns in contaminant exposure that reflect a) regional oceanographic and climatic processes and b) proximity to anthropogenic sources. Specifically I expect:
- Eastern Pacific albatrosses will have increased exposure to toxicants that originate in Western North America and are made accessible to surface marine food webs via runoff and near shore mixing;
- Eastern Pacific albatrosses will have increased overall exposure to toxicants because they have greater access to high trophic foods including fisheries bycatch discards;
- and Central Pacific albatrosses will have increased exposure to toxicants that originate in Asia and are transported to the central Pacific via atmospheric processes.