Feathers as Biomonitor for Heavy Metal Pollution
Horst, Toon ter
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Heavy metals are a group of pollutants that pose a threat to life on earth, including to us humans. One way to study disturbances in ecosystems is through a process called biomonitoring, in which organic material is used to measure changes in ecosystems. An example of a biomonitor is bird feathers, which can be treated in such a way that heavy metal content can be analysed using spectroscopy. The scope of this review was to answer the following research question: “Can feathers be used as biomonitors for heavy metal pollution?”. In addition, this study aimed to investigate what potential challenges exist for this process. By studying previously conducted research, the dangers of a subset of heavy metals were investigated, as well as the mechanisms regarding how metals accumulate in feathers and whether previous research demonstrated measuring heavy metal concentrations by using feathers. This review found that it is indeed possible to measure heavy metals in feathers. However, to successfully deploy feathers as biomonitors and use them to make comparisons between the heavy metal concentrations in different areas or periods, standardization of methods is necessary (e.g., use of the same feather type, use of feathers from birds of the same age and feathers picked at a similar moment during the moult). Bird feathers have the potential to supply us with valuable information on the levels of pollutants like heavy metals and may therefore function as valuable alarm calls for protecting the health of life on Earth.