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Botanica Marina

Editor-in-Chief: Dring, Matthew

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Karenia brevis red tides and brevetoxin-contaminated fish: a high risk factor for Florida’s scavenging shorebirds?

4 / Karen Atwood1, 2 / Gabriel A. Vargo1 / Leanne J. Flewelling1, 2 / Jan H. Landsberg2 / Jerome P. Naar3 / Danielle Stanek2

1College of Marine Science, University of South Florida, 140 Seventh Avenue South, St. Petersburg, Florida 33701, USA

2Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 100 Eighth Avenue Southeast, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, USA

3Center for Marine Science, University of North Carolina, 5600 Marvin K. Moss Lane, Wilmington, NC 28409, USA

4Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Northeast Regional Office, 1239 SW 10th Street, Ocala, FL 34471, USA

Corresponding author

Citation Information: Botanica Marina. Volume 55, Issue 1, Pages 31–37, ISSN (Online) 1437-4323, ISSN (Print) 0006-8055, DOI: 10.1515/bot.2011.122, December 2011

Publication History

Published Online:


Shorebirds, including sanderlings (Calidris alba) and ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres), were observed scavenging beached fish, such as thread herring (Opisthonema oglinum), scaled sardine (Harengula jaguana) and mullet (Mugil spp.) killed during a 2005 Karenia brevis red tide along the central west coast of Florida. Brevetoxin concentrations in dead fish tissues were analyzed to determine the potential exposure risk to scavenging shorebirds. This component of brevetoxin cycling in the food web has not previously been explored and the risks or benefits of this behavior for shorebirds are not currently understood. Toxin levels in freshly dead fish tissues ranged from 32 to 95,753 ng PbTx g-1. Brevetoxins in shorebird livers were also confirmed (26–1313 ng PbTx g-1) in dead birds collected opportunistically from local beaches and rehabilitation centers during the red tide event, suggesting that brevetoxin exposure is a risk factor for mortality. These findings underscore the need to assess the ecological impacts of K. brevis blooms on Florida’s migratory and resident shorebird populations.

Keywords: brevetoxins; fish; Karenia brevis; red tide; ruddy turnstones; sanderlings; shorebirds

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