Biology News

Marwa Latif Presents Poster at Symposium

April 17, 2009
Study examined mercury contamination in swallow eggs.

Marwa Abdel Latif ’09 presented a poster, “Mercury Allocation in Tree Swallows” at the Symposium for Artists & Scholars on April 17, 2009 at Randolph College.

Latif conducted the research project with her faculty mentor, Rebecka Brasso, instructor in biology, while an undergraduate student at Randolph College.

An abstract of her project follows...

Mercury contamination of eggs is suspected as a major cause of impaired reproductive success in wild birds. Large fish-eating birds can differentially allocate mercury into eggs within a brood; the first egg having higher mercury than the last. Intraclutch variation has not been well studied in free-living, insectivorous songbirds that lay larger clutches. The purpose of our study was to determine whether an insectivorous songbird, the tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor), differentially allocates mercury into each egg within the clutch. We found each egg within a clutch to have a similar mercury level; little to no intraclutch variation was detected, whereas there was a 25% average difference in mercury levels between consecutive eggs in large fish-eating birds. We suggest that for tree swallows, any one egg within the clutch can serve as an accurate indicator of local mercury contamination. Collecting one egg at random from a nest is more efficient, inexpensive, and less destructive to the population.

The Student Symposium of Artists and Scholars provides Randolph College students from all classes and disciplines the opportunity to present the results of their research, scholarship, and creative work to the entire College community and beyond.

The two-day symposium, modeled after a typical academic conference, features oral presentations of student research, readings of creative work, musical performances, and exhibitions of student artwork. The symposium also includes a poster session, reception and a keynote address from a noteworthy academic speaker.

Learn more at

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