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article imageBirds used to track and monitor pollution

By Tim Sandle     Nov 24, 2012 in Environment
Common birds are being used by scientists to monitor and assess the levels of pollution. The use of birds is particularly applicable after an attempt has been made to clean-up an area.
The use of common nesting birds to monitor pollution was highlighted at a recent meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Long Beach, California.
This was linked to research undertaken by Thomas Custer (U.S. Geological Survey's Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin). Custer found that because some birds eat insects that hatch in the sediments at the bottom of rivers and lakes, any contamination in the sediment will be detected in the birds and their offspring.
Custer's research centered on a study using tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). The swallows’ eggs and chicks contained significant quantities of a toxic chemical that can be used to track pollution. The chemical was PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls).
Of all the types of birds found across the U.S., swallows are very good for the pollution monitoring task because they don't stray too far from home. Swallows tend to forage very close to their nests, so any chemicals found in them are most likely to have come from local pollutants. A second bird, according to The Scientist, that can be used for 'biomonitoring' is the pigeon. These birds can provide an indication of air pollution, when their lungs are opened up and studied.
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