Wetland habitats- which, according to the BBC, are particularly vulnerable to mercury runoff from mining and industry- are apparently becoming big gay bars for aquatic birds.
Scientists in Sri Lanka and Florida sought to explain why mercury seemed to be causing ibises not to have a whole bunch of adorable ibis babies with each other. They knew mercury pollution negatively impacted breeding habits and development, but the gay thing came as a total surprise. The researchers fed the birds food pellets with mercury contamination levels in line with those found in the foods the birds eat in the wild, like shrimp and crayfish. A researcher remarked:
“We knew mercury could depress their testosterone (male sex hormone) levels,” explained Dr Peter Frederick from the University of Florida, who led the study. “But we didn’t expect this.”
Not only were males affected by the contamination more likely to be tapping other male birds, they were also prone to being “ignored” by females. The BBC spoke to a US Geological Survey wildlife researcher (the USGS was not part of the study) who said mercury contamination in habitats is particularly difficult to eradicate:
“It cannot be broken down, only be moved about and transformed from one chemical form to another,” he said.
“And any effect that might reduce the productivity of a species would likely be harmful in nature.”
The researcher, Gary Heinz, said further research into the effects of mercury contamination and mating in wildlife should be undertaken.