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Posted Wed Dec 1 2010: from BBC:
Mercury 'turns' wetland birds such as ibises homosexual
Mercury affects the behaviour of white ibises by "turning them homosexual", with higher doses resulting in males being more likely to pair with males. Scientists in Florida and Sri Lanka studied the effect of mercury in the birds' diet. Their aim was to find out why it reduced the ibises' breeding. Mercury pollution can come from burning coal and waste, and run-off from mines. The report, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows that wetland birds are particularly badly affected by it. Although the researchers already knew that eating mercury-contaminated food could affect an animal's development, they were surprised by the "strange" results of this experiment. "We knew mercury could depress their testosterone (male sex hormone) levels," explained Dr Peter Frederick from the University of Florida, who led the study. "But we didn't expect this." The team fed white ibises on food pellets that contained concentrations of mercury equivalent to those measured in the shrimp and crayfish that make up the birds' wetland diet. The higher the dose of mercury in their food pellets, the more likely a male bird was to pair with another male. Dr Frederick and his colleagues say the study shows that mercury could dramatically reduce the breeding rates of birds and possibly of other wildlife.
[Read more stories about: heavy metals, wetlands, falling fertility]
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