Grupo de investigaciones en Biología de la Conservación, Laboratorio Ecotono, INIBIOMA (Universidad Nacional del Comahue - CONICET), Quintral 1250 (R8400FRF), San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. Electronic address: [Email]
Vultures and condors (hereafter vultures) make up one the most threatened avian guilds in the world due to a variety of human-mediated impacts and disturbances. In fact, 70% of vulture species are currently suffering impacted by significant conservation threats, with lead contamination being particularly important. Unfortunately, lead contamination in vulture species remains poorly studied in many regions of the world. We reviewed the existing scientific knowledge about this threat to vultures. We found 62 scientific articles studying lead contamination in vultures. Seventy-two percent of these articles were from North America and Europe, with the rest corresponding to Asia (13%), South America (8%), and Africa (7%). Most (92%) were published recently (2001-2018). Published articles included information on 13 vulture species out of a total of 23 from both the Old (9) and New World (4). Eighty-eight percent of the articles showed individuals with lead concentrations above threshold levels in some tissues sampled, with New World (Cathartidae) vultures more affected than Old World vultures (Accipitridae). The most suspected but rarely probed source of lead was lead ammunition, but other sources such as pollution or industry were also reported. It is concerning that lead contamination is considered a major threat for just 8% (2/23) of the vulture species categorized by the IUCN Red list. Our review shows that lead contamination is an important threat for several vulture species worldwide, but remains undiagnosed and not well-recognized in some species and geographical areas. The effect of this contaminant on vulture demography is not well known but merits particular attention since it may be leading to population declines in several species.