Mercury exposure in songbird communities along an elevational gradient on Whiteface Mountain, Adirondack Park (New York, USA)

Amy K. Sauer, Charles T. Driscoll, David C. Evers, Evan M. Adams, Yang Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Mercury (Hg) is a potent neurotoxin that biomagnifies within food webs. Adverse effects have been documented for avian species related to exposure of elevated Hg levels. High elevation, boreal forests generally receive higher atmospheric Hg deposition and regional studies have subsequently identified elevated blood Hg concentrations in songbird species inhabiting these montane habitats. The overall goal of this study was to investigate spatial and seasonal Hg exposure patterns in songbird species along an elevational gradient on Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondack Park of New York State. Songbird blood samples were collected from June–July in 2009 and 2010 along an elevational gradient at 13 study plots (450–1400 m) with a focus on Catharus thrushes, including the hermit thrush, Swainson’s thrush, and Bicknell’s thrush. The main results of this study documented: (1) an overall linear pattern of increasing blood Hg concentrations with increasing elevation, with additional analysis suggesting a nonlinear elevational pattern of increasing blood Hg concentrations to 1075 m, followed by decreasing concentrations thereafter, for all Catharus thrush species across the elevational gradient; and (2) an overall nonlinear seasonal pattern of increasing, followed by decreasing blood Hg concentrations across target species. Avian exposure patterns appear driven by elevated atmospheric Hg deposition and increased methylmercury bioavailability within high elevation habitats as compared with low elevation forests. Seasonal patterns are likely influenced by a combination of complex and dynamic variables related to dietary selection and annual molting cycles. Considering that few high elevation analyses have been conducted within the context of regional songbird research, this project complements the results from similar studies and highlights the need for further monitoring efforts to investigate environmental Hg contamination within avian communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1830-1842
Number of pages13
Issue number10
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Adirondack Park
  • Elevation
  • Mercury
  • Songbird
  • Whiteface Mountain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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