Linking landscape composition and biological factors with exposure levels of rodenticides and agrochemicals in avian apex predators from Germany
Intensification of agricultural practices has resulted in a substantial decline of Europe's farmland bird populations. Together with increasing urbanisation, chemical pollution arising from these land uses is a recognised threat to wildlife. Raptors are known to be particularly sensitive to pollutants that biomagnify and are thus frequently used sentinels for pollution in food webs. The current study focussed on anticoagulant rodenticides (ARs) but also considered selected medicinal products (MPs) and frequently used plant protection products (PPPs). We analysed livers of raptor species from agricultural and urban habitats in Germany, namely red kites (MIML; Milvus milvus), northern goshawks (ACGE; Accipiter gentilis) and Eurasian sparrowhawks (ACNI; Accipiter nisus) as well as white-tailed sea eagles (HAAL; Haliaeetus albicilla) and ospreys (PAHA; Pandion haliaetus) to account for potential aquatic exposures. Landscape composition was quantified using geographic information systems. The highest detection of ARs occurred in ACGE (81.3%; n = 48), closely followed by MIML (80.5%; n = 41), HAAL (38.3%; n = 60) and ACNI (13%; n = 23), whereas no ARs were found in PAHA (n = 13). Generalized linear models demonstrated (1) an increased probability for adults to be exposed to ARs with increasing urbanisation, and (2) that species-specific traits were responsible for the extent of exposure. For MPs, we found ibuprofen in 14.9% and fluoroquinolones in 2.3% in individuals that were found dead. Among 30 investigated PPPs, dimethoate (and its metabolite omethoate) and thiacloprid were detected in two MIML each. We assumed that the levels of dimethoate were a consequence of deliberate poisoning. AR and insecticide poisoning were considered to represent a threat to red kites and may ultimately contribute to reported decreased survival rates. Overall, our study suggests that urban raptors are at greatest risk for AR exposure and that exposures may not be limited to terrestrial food webs.