A novel method for extraction and quantification of feather triiodothyronine (T3) and application to ecotoxicology of Purple Martin (Progne subis)

Jonathan M. Branco, Erika Hingst-Zaher, Danielle Dillon, Renee Jordan-Ward, Joe Siegrist, Jason D. Fischer, Luis Schiesari, Frank A. von Hippel, C. Loren Buck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Seventy-three percent of aerial insectivore species of birds breeding in North America have declined in the past five years. This decline is even greater in migratory insectivorous species, which face stressors in both their breeding and non-breeding ranges. The Purple Martin (Progne subis) is an aerial insectivore swallow that overwinters in South America and migrates to North America to breed. Purple Martin populations have declined by an estimated 25% since 1966. The eastern subspecies (P. subis subis) has declined the most and overwinters in the Amazon Basin, a region rich in environmental mercury (Hg) contamination. Previous studies reported elevated levels of Hg in feathers of this subspecies, which correlated negatively with body mass and fat reserves. Given the propensity of Hg to disrupt the endocrine system, and the role of thyroid hormones in regulating fat metabolism, this study quantifies concentrations of Hg and the thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3) in the feathers of P. subis subis. To our knowledge, this is the first study to extract and quantify T3 in feathers; thus, we developed, tested, and optimized a method for extracting T3 from feather tissue and validated an enzyme immunoassay (EIA) to quantify T3 in Purple Martin feathers. The developed method yielded acceptable results for both parallelism and accuracy. The observed T3 concentrations were statistically modeled along with total Hg (THg) concentrations, but these variables were not significantly correlated. This suggests that the observed variation in THg concentration may be insufficient to cause a discernible change in T3 concentration. Furthermore, the observed effect of breeding location on feather T3 concentration might have obscured any effect of Hg.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number121943
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023


  • Amazon basin
  • Avian toxicology
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Endocrine disruptors
  • Hormonal extraction
  • Migration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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