Sublethal effects of methylmercury on fecal metabolites of testosterone, estradiol, and corticosterone in captive juvenile white ibises (Eudocimus albus)


Methylmercury (MeHg) is a globally distributed neurotoxin, endocrine disruptor, and teratogen, and its effects on birds are poorly understood, especially within an environmentally relevant exposure range. In an effort to understand the potential causal relationship between MeHg exposure and endocrine development, we established four dietary exposure groups (0 [control], 0.05, 0.1, and 0.3 mg/kg wet wt/d of MeHg) of postfledging white ibises (Eudocimus albus) in a divided, free-flight aviary that spanned the estimated range of environmental exposure for this species. Fecal samples were collected from individually identified ibises over six months in 2005 and processed for hormone evaluation. Significant sex-related differences in fecal estradiol concentrations, though unpredicted in direction, suggest that this steroid could be related to juvenile development in this species. Using repeated-measures general linear models, we tested a set of candidate models to explain variation in endocrine expression. We found that MeHg exposure led to significant differences in fecal estradiol concentrations between the control and medium-dose groups, whereas differences in fecal corticosterone concentrations were observed between the control and both the low- and high-dose groups. These results suggest highly nonlinear dose-response patterns for MeHg. Many endocrine-disrupting contaminants are theorized to affect multiple endpoints in a nonlinear manner, making results difficult to interpret using a traditional toxicological approach. The evidence presented here suggests that endocrine effects of MeHg exposure could behave similarly.

Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry