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Mercury turns birds gay, study finds

Thu 2 Dec 2010 In: International News View at Wayback

Scientists have found that consuming high doses of the chemical mercury makes some birds appear to turn gay. Researchers in Florida and Sri Lanka already knew that mercury reduces breeding rates in white ibises, but have now discovered that the higher the dose given to male birds, the more likely they were to try to mate with another male. Researchers gave birds food pellets containing mercury and found that males which received higher doses were more likely to find male partners and shun mating displays to attract females. "These effects were found at low, chronic exposure levels commonly experienced by wildlife," the team wrote in the Journal of the Royal Society. The "effects on reproductive behaviour and sexual preference...represent a novel and probably under-reported mechanism by which contaminants may influence wild populations of birds." The report also notes that when males made courtship displays, female birds were more likely to ignore the males who had been exposed to mercury. The specific mechanism that triggers the male-male bonding is not yet fully understood, but scientists think it might have something to do with hormone disruption associated with the methylmercury. Lead scientist Dr Peter Frederick of the University of Florida told the BBC: "We knew mercury could depress their testosterone levels, but we didn't expect this."    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Thursday, 2nd December 2010 - 1:29pm

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