A recent discovery has shed some light on just how influential pollution can be on the environment. Human waste, in large amounts, has been known to have various effects on the reproductive behaviour of all kinds of animals but the effects are hardly very pronounced to the human eye.
Scientists have observed bird populations that have ingested the poisonous metal compound methyl mercury and have found that even when low levels of the waste enter the bird’s diets the males attempt to mate with other males, and snub the females.
While this effect may seem comical, the long-term effects could be devastating. If the male birds insist on mating with one another and will not mate with females there will be no offspring thus posing a threat to bird populations. The future generations of young birds will not be.
Research had shown that in the past, male birds that had ingested mercury had lower levels of testosterone and were less interested in mating. This is the first time that the evidence shows that mercury could alter the animal’s sexual preference.
The UK’s Daily Mail has more on the experiment:
“U.S. researcher Peter Frederick captured 160 young white ibises – a coastal wading bird – and gave them food laced with methyl mercury. The birds were split into four groups. One group ate food with 0.3 parts per million (ppm) methyl mercury, which most U.S. states would regard as too high for human consumption. A second group was fed 0.1 ppm, and the third 0.05 ppm, a low dose that wild birds would be exposed to frequently. The fourth group received food clear of the poison.
All three dosed groups had significantly more homosexual males than the control group. Male-male pairs courted, built nests together and paired off for several weeks. Higher doses increased the effect, with 55 per cent of males in the 0.3 ppm group affected. Overall, male-male mating was blamed for 81 per cent of unproductive nests in the dosed groups.
Needless to say, it’s rather alarming that even trace amounts of methyl mercury — which is notorious for turning up in groundwater near industrial operations — can have such a substantial impact on wildlife.”
While I don’t agree with the experiment Peter Frederick worked on (I don’t believe in using animals in ANY kind of experiments) I think the findings are quite shocking. Industrial areas are all over the world now which means that world-wide birds are being exposed to this poisonous waste. We have only ourselves to blame for this perverse effect these toxins have on wild life.