Methylmercury Exposure Reduces the Auditory Brainstem Response of Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata)

Sarah E. Wolf, John P. Swaddle, Daniel A. Cristol, William J. Buchser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Mercury contamination from mining and fossil fuel combustion causes damage to humans and animals worldwide. Mercury exposure has been implicated in mammalian hearing impairment, but its effect on avian hearing is unknown. In this study, we examined whether lifetime dietary mercury exposure affected hearing in domestic zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) by studying their auditory brainstem responses (ABRs). Zebra finches exposed to mercury exhibited elevated hearing thresholds, decreased amplitudes, and longer latencies in the ABR, the first evidence of mercury-induced hearing impairment in birds. Birds are a more appropriate model for the human auditory spectrum than most mammals because of similarities in frequency discrimination, vocal learning, and communication behavior. When mercury is considered in combination with other anthropogenic stressors such as noise pollution and habitat alteration, the hearing impairments we document here could substantially degrade avian auditory communication in wild birds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)569-579
Number of pages11
JournalJARO - Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017


  • ABR
  • amplitude
  • ecotoxicology
  • hearing
  • hearing impairment
  • latency
  • threshold shift
  • toxicology


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