Short-term fasts increase levels of halogenated flame retardants in tissues of a wild incubating bird
Marteinson, S.C.; Drouillard, K.G.; Verreault, J.
Environmental Research 146: 73-84
Many species are adapted for fasting during parts of their life cycle. For species undergoing extreme fasts, lipid stores are mobilized and accumulated contaminants can be released to exert toxicological effects. However, it is unknown if short-term fasting events may have a similar effect. The objective of this study was to determine if short successive fasts are related to contaminant levels in liver and plasma of birds. In ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis), both members of the pair alternate between incubating the nest for several hours (during which they fast) and foraging, making them a useful model for examining this question. Birds were equipped with miniature data loggers recording time and GPS position for two days to determine the proportion and duration of time birds spent in these two activities. Liver and plasma samples were collected, and halogenated flame retardants (HFRs) (PBDEs and dechlorane plus) and organochlorines (OCs) (PCBs, DDTs, and chlordane-related compounds) were determined. Most birds (79%) exhibited plasma lipid content below 1%, indicating a likely fasted state, and plasma lipid percent declined with the number of hours spent at the nest site. The more time birds spent at their nest site, the higher were their plasma and liver concentrations of HFRs. However, body condition indices were unrelated to either the amount of time birds fasted at the nest site or contaminant levels, suggesting that lipid mobilization might not have been severe enough to affect overall body condition of birds and to explain the relationship between fasting and HFR concentrations. A similar relationship between fasting and OC levels was not observed, suggesting that different factors are affecting short-term temporal variations in concentrations of these two classes of contaminants. This study demonstrates that short fasts can be related to increased internal contaminant exposure in birds and that this may be a confounding factor in research and monitoring involving tissue concentrations of HFRs in wild birds.