Interspecies comparisons of brominated flame retardants in relation to foraging ecology and behaviour of gulls frequenting a UK landfill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Andrew D.W. Tongue
  • Kim J. Fernie
  • Rona A.R. McGill

External organisations

  • Centre for Ornithology
  • Ecotoxicology and Wildlife Health Division
  • Environment Canada
  • Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
  • Army Ornithological Society (AOS)


This study quantifies and compares concentrations and profiles of legacy and alternative (alt-) brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in the eggs of three gull (Laridae) species of international/UK conservation concern – great black-backed gulls (Larus marinus; n = 7), European herring gulls (L. argentatus; n = 16) and lesser black-backed gulls (L. fuscus; n = 11) in relation to their foraging ecology and behaviour in order to investigate potential exposure pathways at a remote landfill in western Scotland, UK. Egg concentrations of sum (∑) polybrominated diphenyl ethers (∑8PBDEs) in all three species exceeded those for most reported avian species using landfill, except for those in North America. Despite relatively high detection frequencies of ∑hexabromocyclododecanes (∑3HBCDDs) (94–100%), concentrations of ∑8PBDEs exceeded ∑3HBCDDs and ∑5alt-BFRs, with ∑8PBDE levels similar in all three species. Egg carbon isotopic (δ13C) values highlighted a greater marine dietary input in great black-backed gulls that was consistent with their higher BDE-47 levels; otherwise, dietary tracers were minimally correlated with measured BFRs. ∑3HBCDD egg concentrations of herring gulls markedly exceeded those reported elsewhere in Europe. Decabromodiphenylethane (DBDPE) was the only alt-BFR detected (6–14% detection rate), in a single egg of each species. The great black-backed gull egg contained the highest concentration of DBDPE measured in biota to date globally and provides strong evidence for its emerging environmental presence as a BDE-209 replacement in UK wildlife. Correlations between δ13C (dietary source) and some measured BFRs in eggs suggest multiple routes of BFR exposure for gulls frequenting landfill through their diet, behaviour, preening, dermal exposure and likely inhalation. The frequent use of landfill by herring gulls and their increased egg BFR burdens suggest that this species may be an important bioindicator of BFR emissions from such sites.


Original languageEnglish
Article number142890
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number2021
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2020


  • Birds, Ecotoxicology, Flame retardants, Gulls, Landfill, Persistent organic pollutants

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