Bird's feather as an effective bioindicator for detection of trace elements in polymetallic contaminated areas in Anhui Province, China

Yao, Tingting; Zhu, Guang; Zhang, Yong; Yan, Peng; Li, Chunlin; Boer, Willem F. de


Environmental pollution, especially because of trace metals, seriously affects ecological safety, and bird feathers are often used as bioindicators to monitor this risk in various environments. However, the feasibility of feathers as bioindicators for trace metals in polymetallic contaminated areas has not been extensively studied. In this study, we used inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) to quantify and compare the contents of nine trace metal(loid)s (V, Cr, Mn, Co, Cu, Zn, As, Cd and Pb) among soil, plants, insects and birds (feathers and internal tissues) sampled in the mining area of Tongling, a polymetallic contaminated area in Anhui Province, eastern China. We detected significant trace metal pollution in the abiotic and biotic materials. The contents of Cr, Cu, Zn, As and Pb in feathers differed among bird species and among sampling sites, with higher contents often recorded in tree sparrows (Passer montanus). The metal(loid)s V, Mn, Co, Zn, and As had higher contents in feathers than in internal tissues including heart, liver, kidneys, muscles and bones. The contents of some elements in feathers were positively correlated with those in internal tissues, for example, Co, As, and Cd in the heart, V and Co in the kidneys, Cd in the liver, Pb in bones, and As in muscles. Furthermore, the contents of V, Cr, As and Pb in feathers were higher than those in other biomaterials, implying an increasing trend from plants, insects, and feathers. Our study indicates that bird feathers can be used as effective, non-destructive bioindicators to monitor trace metal(loid) pollution, especially for V, Co, As, Cd and Pb, in polymetallic contaminated areas, providing reliable information for ecological assessment.