The Relative Importance of Different Trophic Pathways for Secondary Exposure to Anticoagulant Rodenticides
Secondary exposure of predators to anticoagulant rodenticides, and in particular second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs), is a global phenomenon. The widespread and large-scale nature of this exposure has attracted considerable concern, although the consequences in terms of likelihood of poisoning of individuals and resultant impacts on populations are not well characterised. Secondary exposure of predators may as rise from once or more of: (i) eating contaminated commensal rodents subject to control (target species are typically rats and house mice); (ii) consumption of contaminated non-target small mammals (such as Peromyscus, Microtus, and Apodemus species) that encounter and feed on what are rodent-attractive baits; (iii) consumption of non-rodent vertebrate and invertebrate prey that may also incidentally encounter and eat baits. We hypothesised that predators feeding primarily on target species may be most at risk of exposure to SGARs while those predominantly taking non-mammalian prey may be at least risk. We tested this hypothesis by comparing exposure, determined from the presence and magnitude of SGAR liver residues, in red kites (Milvus milvus), which feeds extensively on rats, in barn owls (Tyto alba), kestrels (Falco tinnunculus), and tawny owls (Strix aluco) that feed widely on non-target small mammals, and in sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus) that feed predominantly on small birds. We found that the scale and magnitude of exposure was broadly consistent with our hypothesis, and that controlling for age in the analysis could be important as older birds can accumulate residues with age. However, exposure in kestrels was typically greater than that in barn owls and tawny owls, despite what is thought to be a general similarity among the species in their diets. We discuss the relative importance of trophic pathways relative to other factors that may drive secondary exposure in predators, and confirm that species that feed on rats or other target species may be at most risk of exposure and poisoning.