CES - Contaminants, Ecosystèmes, Santé

Contaminants in POLAR TOP Predators : Levels and effects of persistent organic pollutants and Heavy metals on stress physiology and fitness in Antarctic seabirds – POLARTOP

Submission summary

Biodiversity in Antarctica is characterized by spectacular colonies of seabirds and sea mammals. Despite their remote location, Polar Regions are subject to anthropogenic (metals and organic pollutants) inputs due to global transport of elements in the atmosphere and through oceanic circulation. Antarctica has been considered being pristine until the contamination by anthropogenic compounds, such as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), was documented in the 1960s. In Antarctica, the presence of contaminants may threaten wildlife since several POPs accumulate in the tissues of top predators. In the Arctic, very high contaminant levels and serious physiological, behavioural and fitness effects have been well documented in several top predators. On the other hand, little information is available about contaminants and their effects in Antarctica: Levels of some semi-volatile compounds, such as HCBs and some PCBs congeners, appear to be relatively high and environmental concern has also arisen as previously undetected brominated and fluorinated chemicals have been recently identified in tissues of Antarctic wildlife. However, most research on POPs and heavy metals levels has focused on a limited number of species and in high-Antarctica. On the other hand, data on contaminant levels are critically lacking further north, in the subantarctic area (and adjacent subtropical zone), where huge populations of seabird (penguins, albatrosses, petrels) are major consumers of the Austral Ocean. This is especially true for the Indian Ocean subantarctic and subtropical areas of the French Southern Territories, which holds large seabird populations including endemic and endangered species. France is therefore responsible for a significant part of the biodiversity in the Southern Ocean and there is an urgent need to increase our knowledge of contaminants levels in top predators from this area. The Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé is running a long-term capture-mark-recapture program of several seabird species in the French Southern Territories, which allows precise recording of the age and reproductive success of several hundred individuals. We want to take advantage of this unique situation to bring together ecologists, physiologist and eco-toxicologists for a multi-disciplinary project (POLARTOP) to: 1) Establish baseline levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heavy metals in the main species of seabirds breeding along a sub-tropical, subantarctic and Antarctic gradient in the French Southern Territories. We will use non destructive sampling (blood and feathers) and search for organo-chlorine compounds (DDT, DDD, DDE, HCB, PCBs, and (PBDEs), which are known to be highly toxic and to accumulate in tissues; and for heavy metals which are known to be highly toxic for Vertebrates (As, Cd, Hg, Pb) and essential ones (Cu, Se and Zn) which may interact with the previous ones in their detoxification; 2) Compare and discuss differences in contaminant burdens between species and between individuals in the context of trophic ecology and individual features. One of the main goals of this program is to use seabirds as sentinels of exposure to contaminants in the Southern Ocean. To do so, we will analyse stable isotopes (?15N & ?13C) in seabird tissues to elucidate broad-scale, inter-and intra-specific dietary patterns, and so determine whether differences in foraging strategy explained variation in contaminant uptake; 3) Assess the effects of POPs and heavy metals on the stress axis and fitness. To do so, we will measure baseline levels of stress hormones and test the stress susceptibility by way of temporary capture/restraint acute stress protocols. To investigate the impact of contaminant burdens on the fitness of seabirds, we will use the capture-mark-recapture approach which explicitly allows taking into account capture probability and temporary absence from the study area, and thus provides unbiased estimators of adult survival.

Project coordination

Olivier CHASTEL (Organisme de recherche)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Help of the ANR 499,984 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 48 Months

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