Interspecific differences in egg production affect egg trace element concentrations after a coal fly ash spill Academic Article uri icon


  • In oviparous vertebrates, trace elements transfer from mother to offspring during egg production. For animals that produce eggs slowly, like turtles, the trace element concentration of each egg reflects an integration of dietary and stored accumulation over the duration of vitellogenesis. Because turtles also produce eggs synchronously, all eggs within a clutch should exhibit uniform trace element concentrations. In contrast, for animals that produce eggs in sequence and primarily from current dietary resources, like many birds, the trace element concentrations of eggs should be less uniform within a clutch, and likely reflect short-term changes in dietary exposure. We tested the hypothesis that stinkpot turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) clutches exhibit lower variability and higher repeatability in barium, selenium, strontium, and thallium concentrations than those of tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) from a site impacted by a recent coal ash spill. All four trace elements exhibited significantly lower variability and significantly higher repeatability in stinkpot clutches than in swallow clutches. Mean trace element concentrations of stinkpot eggs were also significantly higher than those of swallow eggs although both species feed primarily on aquatic invertebrates. Variability in swallow egg trace element concentrations was partially due to significant laying order effects. Our results support the hypothesis that interspecific variation in the source of resources and in the synchronicity and rate of egg production can lead to interspecific differences in the variability of egg trace element concentrations.

publication date

  • 2013