Blood Lead Exposure Concentrations in Mottled Ducks (Anas fulvigula) on the Upper Texas Coast

The mottled duck (Anas fulvigula) is a non-migratory waterfowl species dependent upon coastal marsh systems, including those on the Texas Chenier Plain National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex, and considered a regional indicator species of marsh habitat quality. Research from the early 1970s, 1990s, and early - 2000s indicated that mottled ducks continued to exhibit elevated wing-bone lead (Pb) concentrations, decades after implementation of non-toxic shot regulations. However, wing-bone concentrations reflect lifetime accumulation of Pb, whereas blood Pb concentrations reflect more recent exposure. To identify current potentially relevant temporal windows of Pb exposure, we collected 260 blood samples from mottled ducks during summer (n = 124) and winter (n = 136) from 2010 - 2012 on the Texas Chenier Plain NWR Complex. We quantified baseline blood Pb concentrations for all ages of mottled ducks, and hypothesized that blood lead concentrations would remain elevated above background levels (200 µg L-1) despite the 1983 and 1991 lead shot bans. Blood Pb concentrations ranged from below detection limits to >12,000 µg L-1, where >200 µg L-1 was associated with exposure levels above background concentrations. Male mottled ducks had the greatest blood Pb concentrations (30 times greater than females) with concentrations greater during winter than summer. Likewise, the proportion of exposed (>200 µg L-1) females increased from 14 - 47% from summer to winter, respectively. Regardless of sex, adult mottled duck blood Pb concentrations were five times greater than juveniles, particularly during winter. We identified five plausible models that influenced blood Pb levels where year, site, and interactions among age*sex*season and between age*season were included in the top-ranked models. Frequency of exposure was greatest during winter, increasing from 12% in summer to 55% in winter, indicating that a temporal exposure window to environmental Pb exists between nesting and hunting seasons. Blood Pb concentrations remain elevated in mottled ducks despite Pb shot bans enacted >25 years prior to this study. If Pb levels in mottled ducks becomes a conservation concern, regional monitoring of blood Pb concentrations would be appropriate with a focus upon elucidating potential reasons for the variation among age and sex groups. Finally, identifying potentially available sources of environmental Pb may be key to minimizing this apparently persistent threat to mottled ducks on the upper Texas coast.

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