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An Analysis of Possible Genotoxic Exposure in Adult and Juvenile Royal Terns in North Carolina, USA

Terri J. Maness and Steven D. Emslie
Waterbirds: The International Journal of Waterbird Biology
Vol. 24, No. 3 (Dec., 2001), pp. 352-360
Published by: Waterbird Society
DOI: 10.2307/1522065
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1522065
Page Count: 9
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An Analysis of Possible Genotoxic Exposure in Adult and Juvenile Royal Terns in North Carolina, USA
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Abstract

We studied possible genotoxic exposure in Royal Terns (Sterna maxima) by collecting blood from adults and juveniles at five breeding colonies in coastal North Carolina in 1999. These colonies are located in three estuarine systems (Core Sound, Pamlico Sound, and Cape Fear River), each subjected to different contaminant loads. DNA in red blood cells was analyzed using the comet assay to determine levels of DNA strand breaks, a technique previously not applied to birds. In addition, we weighed each bird and estimated its fat reserves as an indication of nutritional health. Gross health assessments showed no significant differences between study sites, both for adult and juvenile terns. The comet assay indicated that blood cells from the adult and juvenile terns from two Core Sound colonies, Wainwright and Sand Bag Islands, had significantly higher levels of apparent DNA damage than the remaining study sites. Based on previously published studies of sediment contaminants, the Core Sound colonies have relatively low overall pollutant loads, a finding contrary to the expected result based on the DNA damage. Plausible explanations for these finding are that birds from the Core Sound are exposed to an undetected genotoxic contaminant(s) or that birds from the more polluted sites have had an adaptive response to the contaminant exposure.

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